The story of 'Candide' by Voltaire was one of my setwork books in French Literature at university. It's a story of a young man who began life in an affluent setting, and because of various circumstances, experienced one traumatic event after the next. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. All the way through, his master, mentor and friend Pangloss kept exclaiming "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds."Candide experiences great hardship and becomes more and more disillusioned. He concludes at the end: "Il faut cultiver son jardin." Basically meaning that the only way to survive in a world full of tragedy and difficulty is to focus on your own little corner and ignore everything else around you.
There are many themes in the book - spiritual, satirical, philosphical - and each of these themes allows one to interpret the conclusion slightly differently. But for me at the time, I remember being really disappointed with Voltaire - for arriving at an end point which seems so selfish and egotistical, perhaps even defeatist. His garden was his escape from reality - his way of hiding from his fellow man - inwardly focussed and oblivious to the pain of others but also to the joy of others.
So I rejected the idea as something I would never consider for my own life.... until now.
But perhaps there was some wisdom in what Voltaire was saying - not necessarily the way I thought of it then, but rather in that there is joy and reward to be found in creating something special. A space that is full of life, where there is growth and vitality. I am speaking figuratively of course. For each of us the garden might represent something different - perhaps it is your career, or a specific project, or perhaps it is more long term like the upbringing of your children. But whatever it is, it is a place where you are the gardener. You prepare the soil, choose the seeds, plant the seeds and then nurture them with fertiliser, water and light. All these are choices that you make personally, and with effort, time and maintenance the garden grows. And then the garden brings joy, fulfillment and satisfaction.
I believe our creator gave us an inner desire to create. We were originally placed in the Garden of Eden where we were responsible for maintaining it and making it thrive. God himself is a creator and we were made in His image.
Right now, I am realising that I need to start a new garden. A project where I can be creative and see the 'fruits of my labour'. Perhaps it is a garden that I started some time ago that I have neglected and which is now covered in weeds and lacking attention. Or perhaps I need to work on a few gardens simultaneously to see which one will grow the best. How do I know which garden will work best in my climate and with my resources and with my talents? Because ultimately, I want to rest in my garden, I want to walk through it and be pleased with my creation, to enjoy its beauty and share it with others, to be able to pick some flowers that provide colour and fragrant perfume wherever they are placed. In other words, I want my garden to thrive so I have to plan it carefully...
Oh Mary Mary, quite contrary, pray tell me - "How does your garden grow"?