The Gardener and His Flowers

By Rutger Bergstrom

The spirit in man comes to light when the mist of illusion in the consciousness is for a time dispelled. For there are many illusions we must work through; but beyond them all, I believe, is the secret heart with its indwelling strength and illumination which is mankind's real heritage. And this basically is what we must arrive at in all kinds of treatment, training, development, thinking, and research, as well as in religion: the unknown point in existence that no one acknowledges and that too often is confused with a personal deity or other external help.

My thoughts revert to my growing-up years at a mental institution where my father was engineer. We lived in a house within the big hospital grounds. As a child I played there and saw nothing strange in the patients. Much later I became an orderly there, the youngest in Sweden, but that's another story. At the hospital was a very ill man whom I shall call Gosta. Periodically he landed in the violent ward, a terrible place in those days. The isolation was almost complete. The inmates resembled animals more than humans, and food and such things were usually pushed under the door on a tin tray. It was gloomy and the windows were heavily barred.

When Gosta had his better times, he could move freely about the grounds. On one of these occasions, he had a strange vision. The doctors and nurses were used to such -- many patients had visions -- and they paid little attention. But Gosta persistently sought the head physician to tell him about his vision: a voice within told him he would be well within five years and that he must start cultivating the soil and make a garden. Of course, he was allowed to try.

At the edge of the hospital complex there was a fair-sized lot of open ground with heather and shrubs. He was given tools and began his task, following the voice from within. Not too well at first. He kept running into rocks, roots, and other things. The staff kept an eye on him and thought that what he was doing couldn't do any harm, and the work went on. By fall of the first year you could distinguish certain paths he had laid out. By the second year these paths had become pleasant little serpentine roads, whence you could admire the wildflowers about. Sometimes both patients and others used these paths. Several months later -- everybody was now accustomed to seeing the patient busy with the hard work of digging and building -- there were flower beds, and strawberries were in bloom. In other places were various plants and flowers, such as bellflowers, saxifrage, and many, many more. In a sheltered spot were tomatoes, ripening sunny red. All had been created and grown so fast. It became quite a conversation piece. People walked there in the evenings, admiring the building-work, the "engineering," as they called it. And Gosta continued to toil in the sweat of his brow.

By the third year he asked for more ground. He also started irrigation and compost, and when the strawberries were ripe they were as big as plums. Visitors from Gothenburg spread the news of "Gosta's strawberries," and small merchants came to buy from him. By now hardly anyone regarded Gosta as seriously ill; he was simply like anybody else. You could talk to him . . . but the chief physician was still a bit anxious. The cause of the symptoms this patient had had would not be eradicated so easily. Long experience had taught him this. Nevertheless, the patient received all the support he needed for his projects.

Days, weeks, months, lengthened into years. The serpentine paths had been paved with a sort of limestone that lighted the way for the stroller. Everywhere you could hear the gurgling of the water over the little dam he had built. Now and then you saw the visitors of other patients carrying away fruits and vegetables from the garden. Gosta never forgot the voice from within which had led him to undertake this project and which now was helping him to overcome his illness. As his feeling for flowers, plants, and fruits grew, he forgot himself more and more. By the contact with buyers and sellers, he was forced to think independently and to exceed his personal limitation and introspectiveness. Many wanted to consult him about compost heaps and learn how he had grown such splendid tomatoes and strawberries. His love for plants was bringing him into natural and spontaneous relationships with people.

In the fifth year, a beautiful autumn day, as Gosta was hoeing in his garden, the chief came to see him, greeted him cordially, admired the layout, and said rather thoughtfully yet humbly: "Do you know, Gosta, that you have performed a great work, experienced a miracle?" "You mean this is a miracle? No, no." But the chief went on: "I don't mean your garden, though I appreciate it too. I mean the work you have performed on yourself. It is a marvel of marvels. You are well and can leave and do whatever you like. But I would like to see you place your services at the disposal of our own large garden. You are always welcome here, remember that." The two men shook hands, unconscious of the curious boy who stood eavesdropping nearby.

So that is the end of the tale of a patient who overcame a severe mental handicap. Circumstances of life brought me far away from that hospital, yet the memory is light and pure of a man who was not to be conquered. How fortunate we are who have our common sense, thoughts, and feelings, who can follow our own vocation, trusting our intuition and the human contact that so often is a source of strength.

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