I warped back in time tonight. It’s been close to 30 years since I read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden. I found my old copy lingering in my classroom and brought it home to read aloud to my eight and ten-year-old. It’s funny though. I couldn’t really tell them why I wanted to share this book with them. I couldn’t recall a thing about the plot. I just remember a vague feeling. A feeling of love. Warmth. Comfort.
We have read so many incredible books together: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time. So, I won’t lie that when I offered The Secret Garden, I felt the need to present the caveat that it may not be quite as exciting as the Hunger Games, which we had just finished. I’m also not going to lie, reading it was, at times, arduous. Reading with a thick Yorkshire accent was difficult indeed. “Aye, that I do-wi’ tha’ mother’s eyes starin’at me out o’ tha’ face.”
The mother, my Yorkshire friend had mentioned, had died shortly after the birth of her son, who in turn would be treated as a sickly, spoiled, incapable child, on the edge of death, neglected by the man who had broken upon the demise of his love. Another character, a little girl, also lost her parents and was sent to live with her uncle, the broken man. Both neglected children find each other and grow to learn about happiness, friendship and family and the strength in sharing secrets.
In all, the story was engaging enough, but I found myself wondering why I had such strong memories of comfort from this book. We plodded along leaving the last chapter until tonight. It was there, I found what I was looking for.
Recently, a reader of my novel, Remember For Me, spoke about the impact it had on her understanding of faith. She connected her reading of my book with similar experiences when watching movies like Contact and Arrival. When I am lucky enough to receive feedback, it leaves me thinking about my heart and my intention as a writer. This need to give myself a reason for disease, specifically Alzheimer’s, permeated my motivation to write. From where did that stem?
So there I was, a little girl trying to reconcile the death of my grandparents, and I read about the ‘magic’ in The Secret Garden. “I am going to live forever and ever and ever!” exclaimed the boy who had thought his entire existence stemmed from death and would conclude shortly the same. Two children marred by the irreconcilable impacts of parental death find each other, and create the magic that it takes to overcome that darkness. While across the world, his father felt the same magic call him back to the garden. Magic in the voice of his lost wife.
And it’s that magic that began to live inside of me. A faith in something powerful. A meaning for all the horror that you can allow yourself to wallow in. “To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ in your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live.”
I am left to wonder what books we consume that leave a lasting imprint in such a way. For me, it was Burnett’s words that took hold (I’d even marked that passage as a child) and left a seed in a garden that I would sow through my own writing some 30 years later.