A songbird led Mary Lennox to the hidden garden in her uncle's country estate and then unearthed the key that would open the gate. Both the garden and the key had been there all along waiting for her. It was in the garden that Annie was transformed from a yellow-faced, sickly child into a hearty and adventuresome girl.
Many people read the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic as a metaphor; who isn't searching in one way or another for their own secret garden; a place to find a transformative solitude?
The highest point of Yom Kippur is when the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, stands alone in the Holy of Holies. It is at that moment when he experiences a fine line between life and death. He makes a party celebrating his "new life" as the man who emerged from his own Secret Garden.
I was reading some old notes and found the following quote scribbled: "Inside myself is a place where I live alone, and that's where you renew your spring that never dries up." My script is illegible, but I believe it credits the quote to Pearl Buck. I added, "I experience Elul and the Days of Awe as my opportunity to find the place where I live alone." In other words, my own Secret Garden.
Elul is my songbird directing me, first to the Garden and then, if I pay attention, to the key. They are there waiting for me. It is my choice whether to open the gate and enter the place where I live alone. On Rosh Hashanah, I step into a place of quiet in which I can calmly reflect on my growth, without the distractions of other voices, stress and responsibility.
I find my "spring" inside, a source of renewed energy. I drink deep of its fresh waters, and find myself excited about the future and its possibilities.
I step in and out of my Garden during the Ten Days of Repentance, fortified by each visit and sip from the spring.
I find that I see myself differently. I have more clarity when reflecting in the Garden. Different strengths merge into a more unified sense of self. I am prepared for Yom Kippur. No wonder the etymology of "alone" traces back to the Greek for "all-one." Being alone is a way of being all one.
All of us need a Secret Garden. All of us can find it inside ourselves. We can use its silence to reflect and renew, to unify our strengths and clarify our mission. We must search to find it. The songbird is trying to catch our attention. Just follow her and discover your own Secret Garden.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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