There once was a very small child who explored the vast new world around herself. When she crawled in her yard, she felt the dampness of the earth under her knees and smelled sweet clover. She blew at dandelion puffs and watched the seeds sail up into the air and back down. She noticed all the different birds pecking at seeds in the feeders, chattering, then darting up and down before flying away again. Everything was in motion, everything was an enchanting mystery.
Now she wanted to have words for all that she saw, so her mother introduced her to chickadees, four leaf clovers, lilacs, and red-headed woodpeckers. Names became attached to the mysteries, words delighted her, and then they began to define her. She was Rachel, a girl, now trying to be a good child, a good student, a good human being. But when she was cross or impatient or silly, unhappiness found its way into her mind. By the time she was 16, despite her many accomplishments, in her most hidden thoughts, she thought she was a failure, a word that pinched her heart with fear. What if people knew that she was a failure? Would they still love her?
During her walks to school, her mind incessantly went over thoughts about boys, about what her friends thought of her, about her grades, about how she looked. Occasionally she would glance at the birds flying back and forth between trees or landing on the telephone lines above her, but she didn’t pay them much attention anymore. They were just birds, as familiar to her as her socks or her lunch bag, and she turned back to her exquisitely painful thoughts about how inadequate she was. But despite the lowly thoughts, she graduated from high school, went to college, and married a kind and handsome guy. Like flashes of light flaring out from a lighthouse there were moments of great joy and happiness and sorrow; the births of each of her children—looking into their deep and wise infant eyes, the death of one of them, the long days of her marriage, the ups and downs of her job. All these successes blossomed and as well, the failures pricked, and quite before she expected it she was old and alone. Her children had grown up and left home to live their own lives, and to her great sorrow, her husband had gently left his body behind.
For a long time Rachel missed them all, reliving memories that squeezed enough to let her know she was still alive. But as the days unfolded and her body slowed down, she spent more and more time outside in her small overgrown back yard. In the warm summer days she abandoned her chair to sit on the grass. The earth was damp beneath her, bees hovered over the clover, and birds flew down from trees to feeder dipping their small beaks into the seeds. She began to notice how different each one was, some colorful, some shy, some aggressive, and it made her remember her wonder at these winged creatures when she was very young.
One morning while sitting outside, she picked a dandelion stalk and blew at the fuzzy puff. Each tiny seed swirled into the air, each with its own parachute launching it to its new home. A great love swelled from Rachel’s heart for this miracle of nature and in that moment she felt exactly the same as she had seventy years ago. The sun felt warm on her skin, the grass smelled sweet and pungent, the birds sang, and while she sat there she let all her thoughts come and go without hooking into their words of discontent. She briefly wondered why she had spent so much of her life quarreling with what life brought to her, and then she even let that thought go. Life was here, now, in the breathing, in the feeling, in the wonder of birds pecking at seeds. It was as new and fresh as the mysterious days of her young childhood, nothing had changed at all, and she was content.