New York, 7 January 2013
Several years ago, I had to be in New York for a period of two weeks to cover an international meeting. It was early May, a good time to be in the city. The weather is normally nice and it’s not too hot yet. The first morning, I left early to give myself plenty of time to deal with the wearisome entry procedures. My walk to the meeting took me along 47th Street. As I was walking between First and Second Avenues, I spied to my left the entrance to a little garden, open to the public.
Intrigued, I checked my watch and decided I had sufficient time to take a quick look. What I found was achingly lovely: a little pool with the quiet gurgle of a fountain to the side, a small bridge spanning the pool
leading to three benches, and planted beds around the pool. Most magnificent of all, arching over the whole, were three dogwood trees. They were in full bloom, and the soft whiteness of their flowers, tinged with spring green, permeated the whole space. I was left without breath and sat for five minutes to absorb it all. Of a sudden, I started out of my reverie, checked my watch again, and hurried off to my meeting.
The garden must be little known, because I was unable to find any photos of it on the web other than the two above. So I later sent my daughter to take photos when the dogwood trees were in flower. Here is a sample.
I went back several times during the next two weeks, to reflect and to rest, watching the dogwood flowers begin to fade. I learned the garden’s name – St. Mary’s garden – and that it was attached to the small church next door, the Church of the Holy Family. I brought my wife there when she joined me in the second week. We sat on one of the benches and held hands.
When yesterday I found myself by chance close by, I could not resist visiting the garden again. Given the season, it was drearer.
But it still had a dreamy quiet; the fountain gurgled softly, and a bird sang in the dogwood trees. As I sat there, a fragment of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary floated up out of my boyhood memories, heard murmured by old women in dark, empty churches at the time of the Angelus:
Tower of David,
Tower of ivory,
House of gold,
Ark of the covenant,
Gate of heaven,
Health of the sick,
Refuge of sinners,
Comforter of the afflicted …
And then another memory fragment floated to my the surface of my mind, lines from the end of T.S. Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday:
Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still …
And I sat still.
Mary’s garden-1: http://www.dkimages.com/discover/previews/739/151269.JPG
Mary’s garden-2: http://forgotten-ny.com/wp-content/gallery/streetscenes_chip_07/11-holyfamily-grotto.jpg
Dogwood in bloom-1: my daughter
Dogwood in bloom-2: my daughter
Dogwood petals in the pool: my daughter
garden in winter: my picture