The first night at a recent women's retreat we started off with an imagery exercise. We each shared a memory of a time and place where we had felt safe and protected. My place was the small flower garden my daughter and I discovered behind the herb shop in Cambria on the California Central Coast.
For weeks we had been hiking and walking the coastal hills with wild, wide open views of dramatic surf, cliffs, and rock formations, so different from the pastoral scenery of my native Maryland. For those same weeks we also had been dealing with medical testing procedures and a progression of ever sobering results. The day we visited the herb shop was sunny and beautiful, and only a few days after my daughter's mastectomy.
The warren of rooms in the fragrant shop led to a door opening onto another world. Imagine Dorothy's first glimpse of Oz. The enclosed garden with its messy profusion of flowering herbs, trellises, and lovingly placed benches felt welcoming and reassuring. My daughter and I were soon basking in the sun, out of the wind, hidden from the views of passersby. I also felt hidden from the hugeness of the coastal intensity, the hugeness of an impassive God's eye.
I noticed tiny bees lazily visiting each blossom of a low lying plant at my feet. The smallness, the delicacy, the friendliness of the scene soothed a sharp sense of helplessness. I had been feeling vulnerable and insignificant in the face of giant forces that threatened to overwhelm me--my daughter's cancer and the awesome seascape. But here was a human-scaled space where we could rest, breathe, and be at home. The garden maker's intention to delight and enclose with beauty felt nurturing, even though the gardener herself was unknown and unseen. I knew then that my daughter was going to heal. And she has.