Part Two: With Eyes to See
I didn't care how wet or cold I was getting as I sat in the dark...
An occasional car rumbled past on the street in front of me, beyond this concealed place among the thick foliage and trees. I felt hidden away from the world in a secret garden all my own. Though my internal world was in chaos, the physical world around me was wrapped in tranquility. There really are moments in life when you can feel like the only person on earth.
I hadn't heard anyone approaching, but suddenly felt something moist brush over my hands and my fingertips press into a soft, silk fur body. It was a dog...but not just any dog. As the streetlight illuminated through the trees, I could see its red fur and feel the heat of its breath as it danced in place before me. I recognized the Irish Setter breed immediately.
The young setter tried to jump into my lap.
A stern voice called out from the garden entrance, "Lady!"
A tall, slender man wearing a woolen flat cap came bounding down the pathway toward me. He grabbed the dog by the collar and yanked her back. Lady sat immediately and stared up at him. He was an older man with long, white hair and a mustache to match.
"I am dreadfully sorry, miss," he said. "I didn't know anyone would be in here this time of night."
Lady inched toward me again.
"No, Lady," he said. "Stay." The dog sat again on command.
"That's alright," I said. "I love dogs."
You have no idea, Sir, that I grew up with this exact breed of dog. We had two of them, and the first one my parents owned was named Lady. A joyous laugh bellowed out of me as Lady came toward me again and licked my hands.
"Ah, you're an American!" the man said.
"I am." I rubbed Lady up and down as she leaned into me.
"May I ask, what brought you to England?"
Without hesitation, I replied, "I'm studying at the Central School nearby." To confess, I wasn't sure how far I had wandered from the flat.
"I hope you're enjoying our fair city," he said. Lady scurried over to him. "Ah, go on, girl. Do your business." Lady trotted off toward the bushes.
Do your business? Did he bring his dog into this garden to poop and pee?!
"You must be wondering why I would bring my dog here to do her business," he said.
I froze. Was he reading my mind? I shifted on the bench, a tad uncomfortable.
"You see, I figure she's got to have a place to go and in return, she leaves behind something useful that helps the plants and trees to grow," he said.
A moment later, Lady returned to us. The man praised her thoroughly for accomplishing her task.
"She's a good dog," I said, observing how attentive she was to him. "She really listens to you."
"She's young that. But she listens to my voice to know what she should do. She knows who her master is," he said with pride. He patted her head as she stood next to him, wagging her tail wildly and panting with glee.
The man tipped his hat at me. "I wish you the best in our fair city, miss, and good luck with your studies." He looked to Lady. "Come on, girl." He tapped his side. "Time to go."
Before I had a chance to thank him, the man and his bonnie dog turned up the pathway and meandered out the garden gate. He whistled lowly as they walked, eventually out of my sight. The whistling echoed through the trees. A few moments later I was met with a stilled world again.
She listens to my voice to know what she should do... She knows who her master is.
As I contemplated the man's words, goosebumps covered my arms. I realized he was talking about me. I was exactly like Lady. Young, inexperienced, and in need of guidance and direction.
A lot of people have different views about religion, yet there is something about faith that translates universally. We come to have faith in something because we choose to believe it. Since my early childhood, I believed in God and had developed a closeness to him so my faith was based on the biblical version of "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Yet, through all my current troubles and worries, I had forgotten that I had a choice in what I believed, especially about myself. I needed to look at myself through a different pair of eyes.
I don't know who that man was but I had prayed for help. I believe God sent him and Lady to me as a reminder to listen. Listen to the master's voice, the one who knows us best and promises to be with us through anything. I didn't know what was next as I had a few more months ahead of me before my journey home. Anything could happen. I returned to the flat that night with a renewed sense of purpose.
Side note: A few days later, I returned to my secret garden and discovered it was actually a churchyard (pictured). The building in the dark behind my bench was St. Peter, a small Parish church in Belsize Park.
It is important to mention at this point in the story that around the same time I arrived in London, my mother had gotten in touch with some old family friends we knew in North Carolina when I was about 5 years old.
For the sake of privacy, I'll refer to them as "The Smiths." The Smiths were a nice couple with three boys, of whom the eldest, "Charles" treated me like gold. I can still recall him putting me on his shoulders and running around so fast I thought I could fly. His middle brother was "Tommy" and their youngest brother "Jack" was nearer to my age. Upon hearing about my trip to London, Mrs. Smith gave my email address to Jack after she told him about reconnecting with our family. Jack was living down south and had just become a new youth minister. Both our mothers thought we'd hit it off and they were right.
Jack emailed me a few weeks after I had been in London and, after our first initial emails back and forth, we began a daily correspondence. We also mailed each other a letter with our current photo. Jack was handsome and kind. He wrote thoughtful and funny things to me, which helped me not feel so alone. We had a lot in common. His words helped fan the flame on the bit of hope I needed to face my fears and conquer my doubt. Shortly after Dylan, Nancy, and Janet arrived (and I'd had my epiphany in the garden), Jack began calling me on the phone. We spent hours talking about everything under the sun. He was like a bright light sent to dispel the darkness.
As young as I was, I wanted to believe that Jack was the answer to my future hopes. I felt I had the eyes to see and hear what was true and honest, but things are not always what they seem. Sometimes when we look too hard for the answers we want, we miss the one that was right in front of us.