Today was Science Spectacular Day at my daughters' elementary school and I had the privilege of volunteering at one of the presentations. Two scientists from NC State University did a great job involving third graders in explorations about the properties of soil. As the students at my table sifted through a sample of the dark, rich-looking material, they exclaimed over their findings: rocks, twigs, leaves, roots, pine needles. I couldn't help but notice, though, that their biggest excitement was reserved for the living treasures that they encountered – worms, ants, beetles, and "roly-polys".
As I watched their enthusiasm, I was taken back to memories of the school garden project that I created while I was a volunteer service worker in a semi-arid region of Brazil. Although I had dabbled in gardening for years, I didn't really realize how much I loved it until I shared that joy with the middle and high school students who were a part of the project. It was hard work, but the harshness of the landscape, and the challenges we faced seemed to make the beauty of the garden all the more vivid and precious.
Of all the things that I enjoy about gardening, there is one thing that I love most – the sight of a new green shoot bursting its head above the earth. After all the work of preparing the soil, planting, watering, and weeding, I reach the point where I have done all that I can do. Now, all I can do is watch as the sun warms the earth, waiting and hoping that life will emerge. When and if it does, it still seems miraculous to me! The hope and potential expressed in this small being always lift my spirits.
"I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree," wrote Joyce Kilmer. Nature has long been a source of inspiration for poets, visual artists, and musicians. What is it about experiences with nature that speak to us so profoundly? For me, encounters with nature bring a sense of wonder and gratitude. There is something more, though. Observing nature reminds me that each creature has a part to play in the grand symphony of life. When I see a bird being a bird, I am moved by how it expresses its' unique essence. Without it, the richness of the world would undoubtedly be diminished. Experiences with nature cause me to appreciate our uniqueness and our interconnectedness.
Like the sprout or the bird, I think that we also are part of the symphony of life. We each have a unique essence that is ours to contribute, and when we don't, the world misses something. When we discover our essence and express it fully, we have an experience of vitality and fulfillment. When we are our most authentic selves, we are able to use our talents and our gifts to make a difference. Each of us is a living treasure, unique and irreplaceable.
How will we choose to spend the treasure of our lives?