The garden by the stream is more than an escape for David. When he’s worried or overwhelmed, he’s returned to this place to get away but also to reflect, to learn, and to find peace. And even after hitting some of his most painful lows, he found solace in this magical place — and hope for a better future.
I’ve always been a daydreamer. Teachers in school struggled to keep my attention on the lessons. My father repeatedly tried to get me to engage in family conversations. I’m no stranger to solitude, and I have the impeccable ability to be truly alone even in the midst of people. When the activities of those around me become overly stimulating, my innate desire for alone time immediately kicks in and like wounded prey, I gradually zone out, mentally withdrawing from surrounding voices until they become distant echoes.
So here I am again — escaping, on this Saturday evening sitting on a rock in the garden. With only singing birds and dancing leaves as company, I come here to get lost in an alternate universe where the villains of my life are vanquished. A perfect world made up in my head, brought to life in nature with the mighty power of my imagination giving character to everything that I observe.
It’s amazing how this magical place offers contrast. On one end of the garden is the showy, golden-yellow and orange petals of the bird of paradise flower awakening a mood of play and laughter, and on the other end is the exotic night tulip, its deep maroon blossoms a reminder of the graver matters that constantly tug at me. And while the setting sun illuminates a part of the garden, the dense leaves from the trees on the other side create shadows. Altogether, it’s an astonishing view.
As I look around, what pulls my attention is the stream flowing through the thick canopy of foliage. Most days, it’s a gentle flow, but there are times like today when the stream rages as torrents. It seems designed by nature to mimic the emotions inside of me.
I received the first call on a vibrant spring afternoon.
“How are you, David?” my aunt’s voice said on the other end of the line.
“Great, good to hear from you,” I replied. She’s my favorite aunt, so I was excited to hear from her, but something about this call was strange because she didn’t say much before hanging up. It was not until after several calls from other family members, who all said they were only calling to check up on me, that I insisted, “Can someone just tell me what’s going on?”
It was then I was told that I’d just lost my father. He had multiple myeloma and was hospitalized briefly before giving up. I was devastated — I hadn’t even been aware he was sick. He’d kept his illness away from me and had instructed others not to inform me because he didn’t want me to worry.
Less than a year ago, I’d jetted off to a small island nation called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to study. Unrecognized as it was by most of the international community, this country had managed to attract thousands of students from developing countries mainly due to the affordable tuition.
“Study there, come back home, and make me proud,” my father had told me. He had wanted me to avoid the incessant strikes by lecturers of public universities in my home country of Nigeria. And since the tuition of the Cyprus institutions were comparable to private universities in Nigeria at the time, he’d reasoned that it’d be more advantageous to gain exposure in a foreign country.
After the loss of my father — who had until then been the sole sponsor of my education — my mother tried to step into his shoes, and I took up odd jobs. I waited tables, cleaned pools, worked on beaches and washed dishes. In 2016, with just three semesters to go until my graduation, my mother suffered a major financial setback and could no longer continue to sponsor my education in that country. With no odd jobs that paid an undergraduate enough to cover tuition in Cyprus, and no access to loans as an international student, I was stuck.
After struggling through many semesters of late payments, I became unable to attend lectures and sit for exams. As an unregistered student, my legal status in the country was in jeopardy, and I had to leave. At this point, I already owed the university a debt so they wouldn’t even release my transcript. With no possibility of transferring credits, everything my parents had labored for now rested above the shredder.
I returned to Nigeria and started university all over again at a public university. I was back to square one. For a long time, I was mad about a lot of things on the inside. I was upset about where I came from; I was upset about where I’d chosen to study; I was upset with God.
Death stings. And when it came, it took parts of everyone close to my father along with him. How greedily wicked. Nobody was prepared for his demise. I didn’t see my mother smile for a long time after that, her eyes always teary.
I currently continue along this arduous degree journey amidst the incessant strikes that my father tried so hard to avoid. Five years after starting at the public university, I have yet to finish due to the strikes. As the mental turmoil goes on, it seems as though throwing in the towel is the price to be paid for my internal peace. But I’m not about to give up – I will finish. I try not to let the setback affect my academic performance and I keep going in spite of the challenges, however difficult.
I’ve been through moments that have shaken me to my very core. Events that have made me reevaluate my beliefs. And because all of my values hinge primarily on Christ, those challenging events have led me to question my faith. Whenever this process of questioning begins and my eyes are hot with tears of frustration and pain, I run to this garden, my calming place where these seemingly contrasting elements of nature beckon me to hit the brakes and reflect.
In this place, I find hope in spite of the surrounding darkness. The movements of the raging water and floating butterflies remind me that I’m not alone. Collectively, everything here directs my attention to only that which matters — a well-lived life. This helps me to slow down and be more deliberate and careful in the way that I approach life. When you live with the realization that you don’t have a lot of time in this world, you give the time you have here the value it deserves.
Like sorrow and consolation, two men on opposite sides of a tree pushing and pulling alternatingly, everything about life is an intricate mix of things that don’t harmonize. However, when everything around me seems to be falling apart, I’m intentional about ensuring that within my own soul there is harmony. And for that, I can thank this stream garden and my lifelong practice of daydreaming.