“Will two plus two always equal four?,” asks Jeff in one Family Circus cartoon. I found myself asking the same question when I considered the query, not literally, but as an analogy to living in a predictable world where two plus two does equal four, until last year when it seemingly didn’t. The pandemic had turned our world upside down. And so, in the waning days of 2020, like so many, I feared that the new year would be no different.
Yet, here we are once again welcoming a new spring with its assurance of renewal and hope. Especially this year, I feel a greater connection with nature, and I wonder what it might teach us if we pay attention. One of my friends describes wondering as traveling down a path alone, or with others, in search of meaning and understanding. So, as I search for that discernment, perhaps you will join me in this quest.
Albert Einstein instructs us to “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Gardens are wonderful examples of endurance and continuity, reminding us that no matter how difficult the winter might have been, new growth will appear. In his book, The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life, Thomas Moore underscores their importance, believing that they encourage us to slow down, to stop, and to open our senses to our surroundings.
I recall my great-aunt Emma and her love of gardening. Even as she aged, she would head to her garden every day, sometimes using a walker to make the journey. A love of gardening does not decline, although how we garden may evolve as we age. Today, tools have been redesigned to make tasks easier. Raised garden beds make maintaining a garden more manageable, and many congregate living facilities incorporate therapeutic gardening programs.
“Gardening simply does not allow one to be mentally old, because too many hopes and dreams are yet to be realized,” says horticulturist Allan Armitage.
Then, too, nature brings us pleasure when we walk in the woods, savoring the smell and texture of the earth, view centuries-old mountains, or sail on calm water.
Surprisingly, birds teach us valuable lessons about community. Have you ever been transfixed watching geese flying overhead in their V-shaped formation? They take turns sharing the lead, and together they can fly faster than one individual bird. Mating for life, geese enjoy an elaborate system of caring in their relationships, reports High Flying Geese author Browne Barr. When a wounded goose falls to earth, the others in the gaggle come down with it and wait for the stricken bird to recover or die, sometimes at great cost and risk to themselves from other animals and hunters.
Finally, nature gives us a sense that we are part of something greater than ourselves, making us more aware of our connectedness, not only with each other but with the earth. I hope never to lose that awareness, no matter my age. I hope you feel the same.
Linda Henry writes regularly on topics related to aging, health care, and communication, and is the co-author of several books, including Transformational Eldercare from the Inside Out: Strengths-Based Strategies for Caring. She conducts workshops nationally on aging and creating caring work environments. Her volunteer emphasis is age-friendly communities.