In February 2020 I left South Korea’s Incheon Airport heavily armed with face masks and hand sanitiser and arrived in Birmingham, which seemed ill-prepared for anything connected to Covid-19. Even at the airport there were only a few people wearing masks and I did not feel that there was anything to worry about. However, in March, the Covid-19 situation in England suddenly changed which resulted in the area I was living in being put under lockdown. Thus began a period of restriction without knowing when it might end.
Having procured the necessary equipment, I was able to take a walk once a day and I began to get used to this unfamiliar area and culture. I experienced days of quiet that reminded me of scary movies. My only consolation was the never-ending delicate sounds of birds at dawn. Attracted by this sound I got up and left the house, following the birds that were flying across the white clouds in the blue sky. I walked on a road that had colourful flowers and tall trees dressed in luxuriant leaves. I became submerged in nature, seeing the cool water in the brook and a goose flapping its large wings as it rose up from the lake.
I began to wonder about many things like: how the birds deliberately selected the branches needed to make their nests, how they endured the rainstorm while protecting their eggs, how they distinguished the voice of their own young from that of others, how the leaves of flowers changed colour, how the birds and insects coexisted with flowers. I observed that nature was moving vigorously, unlike the world of people that had come to a halt. Just as the forgiving Father in the bible story welcomed his prodigal son’s home coming, nature seemed to be silently accepting us tired humans, comforting us, giving us peace and the ability to survive.
The city that had been weary and deserted gradually filled with the bumping sound of the insects’ wings, the twittering of the various birds, the rich scent of flowers, the tree leaves sprouting in the sunshine, the beautiful colour of the sky at sunset, and the moon rising without fail, standing like a neighbour in the quiet street. The busy mother was carefully hiding the newly born pouting baby birds as they came out of the nest, people exchanged smiles with each other as they watched them. They were all totally surprised when the great big cherry fruit tree fell with a clatter and shared expressions of surprise, while still having the composure to greet each other while walking under the shade of the light blue-coloured tree.
The bicycle repair shop – as well as local convenience stores – became the busiest places with many customers visiting them. At the beginning of July 2020, as lockdown restrictions were eased, I finally got a bike which became my bridge to the world. Thanks to the bike I could now volunteer to work in community gardens.
I regularly visited an elderly lady who was living alone whom I had accidently got to know. When I first visited her garden, Mary (not her real name) looked down at the effects of a storm that had passed by saying, “since last summer, after I slipped over the weeds, I no longer come out into the garden”. Saying it was now a useless garden, she explained that the rose bush on the wall was planted by her father. I heard this as if it was akin to the grey English sky; that same murky English sky that even on rainy days can suddenly become bright and produce an unexpected rainbow.
The following day I took care of the overturned flowerpots that were rolling around and picked up the leaves and branches as well as the broken bottles and light fixtures. Having heard the words that the grandmother had inadvertently thrown away, I found, in one corner of the garden something covered with black plastic. When I removed the plastic I discovered a beautiful table and seat, and even a parasol. When she saw them unveiled, she shouted with delight. After that, I began to take care of the garden and the flowers that belonged to the grandmother began to bloom.
I wondered how Mary felt as she looked down on what had become a rundown garden. On learning that her neighbour loved roses, I lifted the roses that were in full bloom to her side of the fence. She said she wanted the rose branches to be stretched from east to west and as I tied the roses that were full of briars to the vine from east to west, the grandmother who was watching me suddenly cried out. She declared that she was unable to describe how happy and grateful she was, saying that I had brightened up her life as she could now look down from her second floor on the beautiful garden and see the roses.
I learned that the person that had looked after the garden before had, against her wishes, chopped down the rose bushes. Hearing this story about Mary, who was unable to move about freely and spent most of her time staring down on the garden from the 1st floor, I thought about God. Just as Mary’s previous gardener didn’t listen to her hope for her rambling roses, we also have ignored God’s hope for Creation and seek more and more while destroying His garden.
Because of our greed we have changed nature itself and that leads to us making birds, hens, pigs and cows sick. We further bury them in the ground ignoring their cries. As none of us knows how to dispose of nuclear waste, we ignorantly bury it deep beneath the earth while continuing to live a lifestyle that produces more dangerous nuclear waste. Despite putting our present and future in danger with global warming, we merely think only of what will make our present lives more comfortable. We talk of returning to our normal lives after the vaccine for coronavirus becomes available. We want to be able to continue to live the good life we have been living. We show no sign of remorse for having exploited our neighbour nature, treating it as we wished while failing to reflect on what we have done.
St. Paul says, “you were called, as you know, to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love”. [Galatians 5.13]. He says, now is the time for us to serve one another in love and to change our lifestyle. It’s time for us to fulfil God’s will, who graciously gave us free will and the responsibility of looking after the world. It’s time to dream about a new way of living. Even though there are thorns that cause us some discomfort we need to choose a life that includes all peoples and creatures, serving all as our neighbours. All of life should be able to enjoy the fragrance of the rambling rose, with all enjoying peace and fulfilment too.