One day a man, a gardener, passed a large house. The house had many floors and obviously many rooms, but it was the garden which caught his interest, for as he looked, he saw there was something wrong with the flowers.
The flowers, which he recognised, should have been white and yellow with purple edges, but they had somehow become contaminated and were speckled with black flecks. The gardener bent down and stroked the petals, half expecting the flecks to be dust from one of the nearby factories, or mud splattered from the road. But it was none of these. The flecks were part of the flowers.
Just then a young girl came out of the house. She looked up and saw the man, who seemed old and kind to her, standing by her fence. She smiled a brilliant smile – until she saw him examining the flowers. Then her smile faded and she made to turn away.
‘Wait,’ he called. ‘Tell me about the flowers. Why are they marked like this?’
The girl hesitated, then came over. ‘I don’t know,’ she told him. ‘But I wish with all my heart that they weren’t.’
The man nodded, understanding. ‘Have you tried washing them?’ he said.
‘Hmm, have you tried moving them to another part of the garden?’
‘Yes, but it made no difference. I’ve tried putting them where there is sun all the time. And putting them in the shade. And even growing them on their own in a green house, but nothing changes them. They always come up with these marks and I hate it because everyone who goes past, sees them and thinks that’s all I can grow.’ The girl looked down, her face fixed as if trying not to cry.
The man was quiet for a moment. Then, pointing towards the garden gate he asked if he could come in. The girl nodded.
He walked slowly, opening the gate with a thoughtful frown creasing his forehead. As he approached the girl he saw her step back slightly so he slowed more, and sat on the grass – not wanting to frighten her.
And that’s when he felt it.
‘What the matter with this soil?’ he murmured, bending forwards.
The girl, surprised, looked up from herself. ‘What?’ she asked.
‘The soil. There’s something not right with this soil. I work with plants too, you see,’ he told her. ‘And I know this earth is not as it should be.’ He bent low and sniffed.
It looked funny to the girl, to see him curled over, bending low. She felt that at any moment he would topple forward, and for a moment she had to look away to hide a nervous giggle. But when she saw him dig his fingers into the soil and rub them together with quite the most tender touch she had ever seen, she fell silent inside. And in that silence she saw him more clearly than she had before: she saw a compassion she was not used to; an understanding she had not experienced. Moreover, she also saw that he was not old as she had thought; he was in fact much younger. What had appeared as age to her, was in truth the manner of a powerful and loving man - who cared deeply for what he touched.
‘What is it you see?’ she asked, curious as she had not been before.
The man looked up, opening his mouth to speak, but then stopped. The expression on her face made him see that she was not the young girl he’d previously thought her. She was a woman, and the realisation surprised him.
‘Er,’ he started, regaining his thoughts. ‘The soil here is not clean. It has some sort of tar running through it. The flowers cannot grow as they should…’ he paused and sniffed the ground again, and this time the woman, growing more and more curious, did like-wise.
Together, their heads side by side, they examined the soil, and saw that far from the flowers doing badly, there were doing surprisingly well.
‘Why did you choose this garden to plant them in?’ the man asked, looking at her deeply, still trying to accept the change he’d seen come over her.
‘I…’ the woman hesitated, trying to recall accurately. The closeness of the man, who was seeming younger and more familiar to her all the time, was distracting her. ‘I wanted my flowers to be seen here. I knew I could grow beautiful flowers, because of the ones I grow inside the house, but nobody could see-‘
‘Inside the house? You have other flowers?’ The man interrupted her, standing up. ‘Show me, please. Let me see them!’
She looked up at him a moment, then rose. ‘They’re in the courtyard,’ she said, and led the way to the house. She wanted to run ahead but the man, despite his eagerness, walked slowly - seeing everything. This impressed her and she hung back by his side. And so, in this way they passed into the house: the man stopping to look at this and that, asking her questions about the things there. And the woman found herself answering about those things in a new way: she had always been eager to share and talk of her possessions, but his tenderness led her to a stillness free of that compulsion, and now her answers, new and courageous, surprised her.
At last they came out into a central quadrant of the house. And there the man found himself in a magnificent garden, surrounded by the most beautiful, perfect flowers. They spread everywhere around them; growing in buckets and pots, on ledges and in window beds and - he noticed - directly from the ground. He touched and stroked them all, admiring the colours which were pure and untarnished. Almost translucent.
‘These are amazing!’ he asserted. ‘The best I’ve ever seen.’
The woman smiled for a moment, but then her face darkened. ‘If only the soil out there was good, then everyone would see my beautiful flowers.’
The man stopped. He heard the sad anger in her voice and turned. ‘It will not help to be angry with the earth,’ he said. ‘As bad as it may be, it still nourished those tender buds.’
‘Then maybe I should never have planted them,’ she said defiantly. ‘Why should I care if no one sees these, my real flowers. And if it is that soil that has ruined them, then I hate that ground. Why should I give it anything!’
‘Where did those flowers by the road come from?’ he said.
The woman’s eyes softened, weary. ‘I bought them as seeds; as I did these.’
‘So,’ he said, ‘they have potential, don’t they? What a triumph it would be to nurture those other buds to this glory.’
‘But I’ve planted so many,’ she sighed. ‘I’ve tried to give them all the love I can and I’m tired. And I’m tired of no one seeing what I can really do.’
‘Listen, you have planted flowers out there, and though not perfect, they are growing. And the flowers growing in here - your true flowers unaffected by the outside - well, they are perfect. Perhaps if you took some of these, and planted them amongst the others, then the added power, the extra beauty, would help support them… perhaps it might even hasten the healing of the ground.’
‘You think I should be trying to heal the soil?’
The man gently took her hands in his, a promise in his touch. ‘I think,’ he told her, his eyes bright with belief. ‘That you already are.’