When something extraordinary happens to us, whether it be a fortuitous event, a tragedy, or a serendipitous encounter with a stranger, we wonder about the meaning of that event. Did God or the Universe intentionally bless us with good fortune? Did something bad happen because we deserved it? Was our serendipitous encounter orchestrated by a higher intelligence?
I will never claim to know the answers to such questions. But I have come to believe that meaning isn’t built into the events of our lives. We create the meaning from our responses to those events.
I have many flowerbeds in my yard, and I tend them with loving care. Late last summer, when I went to work in a backyard bed filled with ivy, I found a beautiful little ceramic fox sitting on one end of the paving block border of the bed.
The sight of the fox took my breath away. I hadn’t put her there. I’d never seen her before, and I had no idea how she’d gotten there. But she looked like she belonged in that exact spot, half-nestled under the ivy.
I was bewildered by my discovery, yet enchanted. It seemed as if a mysterious stranger had bestowed me with a gift, gracing my garden with a new presence. I wondered what had motivated the action. Was this meant to be an affirmation of my gardening efforts?
I brought my husband out to see the fox. Since we didn’t know who had put her there, we decided to leave her where she was. Perhaps her owner would come back to claim her.
But my little fox friend stayed with me. Every time I went out to weed that flowerbed, she was still there in her ivy shelter. I’d smile at her, enjoying the blessing of her presence, loving the mystery of how she got there. If I had to move her in order to pull a week or trim a vine, I’d always set her back in the perfect spot, the spot in which I’d originally found her.
That intrepid little fox stayed there in her new home throughout the fall and winter. When I began working in my flowerbeds in the spring, she was still there. I started to believe she would be with me forever, comfortably at home on the paving block border.
Our neighbors to the west live up a slight hill from us, so it is not always easy to spot what they have in their yard. One week ago, on the first day of this summer, my husband and I passed their property on our morning walk. Suddenly, I spotted a large ceramic fox next to their house, along with a smaller fox. It was a mother and her cub. And they looked exactly like the tiny creature who was sitting on the edge of my flowerbed.
I knew immediately that my fox belonged to that set. My husband picked her up and carried her over to the neighbor’s yard, placing her next to her ceramic mother and sibling.
And that was that. My mysterious little friend was gone, back with her rightful owner.
My husband and I puzzled over how the fox had ended up on our property. Had some neighborhood child been attracted to the foxes, picking one of them up, then discarding it in my flowerbed after he or she lost interest in it? We’ll probably never know the answer to that.
So, my precious fox friend was not a mystical gift bestowed by some loving stranger. She was never intended to grace my flowerbed with her serene presence. There was nothing inherently meaningful about her ending up there. She had belonged to the neighbors all along. When I consider how long it took us to return her to them, I feel a little sheepish.
However, I will never forget the wonder I felt when I first spotted the fox on the paving stone border. The peace I felt every time I tended to that flowerbed. The sense of awe and mystery she inspired in me.
Now, every time I work in a part of my yard adjacent to my neighbor’s property, I glance over at the foxes. The little cub, now in the company of her mother and sibling, seems to be gazing back at me, remembering our time together.