Me First

“Me First.” These are words you’ll almost never hear me say, at least since I was eight years old. That is the age when the unwritten rules of Methodism and of my family began to sink in — think of others first and pursue duty before pleasure. I still follow those precepts, almost without thinking, even though I left childhood and the church long ago.

I spent part of last week in my hometown with my mother. She became a widow in April this year, and it is a big adjustment for her. At the same time, her vision is fading because of Macular Degeneration, and everything that once was easy has become difficult. It is good for me to be there with her. I can catch up on family news while working on chores that are still simple for me.

When it was time to return home, I decided to ignore duty for a few hours and stopped to see the new Japanese garden at the Meijer Botanical Gardens in Grand Rapids. Making this decision took a ridiculous amount of thought. After all, I would be alone, and there were plenty of things for me to do at home after being away for several days.

In the garden, I found an entire world constructed on eight acres: lakes, streams, peninsulas, beaches, and even a small mountain. Because I was alone, I walked slowly on every flower bordered path. I lingered on bridges, peering into the murky water looking for fish, and walked all the way around sculptures, taking the time to see them from every side. I eavesdropped on the couples and groups who were sharing the garden with me and found they were talking about everything except the place where they were walking. Did that mean they were less present, or was their experience enhanced because they were sharing it with another person?

The Japanese garden was full of beauty at every turn of its meandering paths . I wish I could say I came home with a more balanced outlook and a renewed spirit. That is not the case. However, for the two hours I spent walking in the garden, I felt unhurried and peaceful. I think it will take more than one dose of selfishness to cure my obsession with getting everything else done before settling in to write or weave.