We all know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – but is it polite to judge it by its title?
Take, for example, Year of Wonders, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks. On the surface, it seems like a pleasant name for a book – inspirational and awe-inspiring. It’s the haunting tagline under the title that seems a little unnerving: “A Novel of the Plague.”
Not exactly an uplifting subject – and yet, it was all that and more.
Based on true life events, this fictional account focuses on a small English village in which Plague has taken hold. Under the guidance of the local minister, the town quarantines itself – and through the eyes of Anna, we witness moments of horror and joy, life and death, infection and healing.
As Plague ravishes this small community, the reader witnesses Anna’s spiritual growth. As a woman who has faced monumental losses, she is able to face life one step at a time, to learn, to find her purpose as a healer and midwife, and to discover her voice – no small feat for a woman in 1666.
Through Brooks’ rich and eloquent prose, the reader is allowed to witness Anna’s p
rogress as she moves from mourning to survival to living. For me, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the character’s process was so deeply entrenched in gardening and her learning of plants and their healing qualities.
Then, I began to reflect on my own years of wonders and how entering the garden helped me to cope, to breathe, to move forward. I thought of the months following my grandmother’s passing, when I went to her vacant house to dig up her Hyacinths and transplanted them into my own yard; of the first time I raked mulch across a flower bed following my car accident which had resulted in a head injury; of the first time I watered the garden after a heart attack and the first round of coronary stent placement; of countless hours of weeding following stressful days at work — simple tasks that provided simple answers to complex issues.
While these moments certainly do not compare to the magnitude of Plague, they are still challenges which we face and rise to and place into a proper perspective. I think we all have these moments. And when we do, we find our means to grow — 15 minutes at a time to one day at a time. Eventually, a year goes by and we realize that we survived and that we are, in fact, alive.
It’s really no different than what’s happening in our own gardens right now. While many of us comment on the winter that never was, there is still something so refreshing about the first hints of spring peeking up between winter debris – like the absolute wonder of “Pickwick” Crocus and its markings.
I know we have January 1 to mark the start of a new year, but wouldn’t it make sense to mark the year by spring? It’s the moment when we look about and see buds on branches, when the length of a day grows, and in a moment, we realize that we have come through our darkest days.
Like Anna, there is much to learn and to consider – but in her story, we can find comfort that while life may change, it’s still life – and in life, there is wonder.