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Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

‘The Harmony Garden’: Sunday Night Read for May 26, 2024

By Vaseline May26,2024
‘The Harmony Garden’: Sunday Night Read for May 26, 2024

This short story series submission is from Patricia Celan of New Westminster.

In the heart of the bustling city stood the Dolorem Psychiatric Hospital, its imposing façade a testament to the weight of the stories it held within.

It was a cold facility even in the summer, where psychiatrists went to work simply to do a thankless, exhausting job and then briskly went home at the end of the day. Most patients rarely seemed to get better, as they quickly returned for re-admission whenever they were discharged. Most psychiatrists were cynical and disgruntled, with a sense of superiority defending against their feelings of inadequacy at making change.

Yet, outside the barren clinical corridors and sterile rooms, there existed a sanctuary, a place that promised a haven of healing.

Dr. Maya Belrose was not your typical psychiatrist. She knew the pain of mental illness, a secret history of trauma and isolation lingering in her past. Though she had long since recovered, the experience had humbled her deeply and the lessons learned continued to shape her approach to healthcare. When her colleagues experienced compassion fatigue from their most challenging patients, Dr. Belrose offered a wise perspective of kindness. With her gentle demeanour and tender heart, she approached her patients not as cases to be solved but as souls in need of understanding and care. She believed in the power and curative potential of connection.

One dreary morning, as rain painted the windows with translucent tears, Dr. Belrose received a new patient: Mara, a young woman with haunted eyes and a fragile spirit. Mara had been battling with severe depression, her soul shrouded in darkness that seemed impenetrable. She was known as one of the “difficult ones”, with an irritable gloominess that made enemies of all who tried to help her, everyone she spurned with her disagreeable remarks. As she sat across from Dr. Belrose, her words spilled out like broken fragments of a shattered mirror, wounding her audience of one and reflecting the pain and despair that consumed her. Mara felt that she was a curse, her very existence a risk to anyone who came into contact with her. She had a solemn wish to end her miserable life, and grew indignant with anyone who challenged her aspiration.

Dr. Belrose listened with steadfast attention, her heart heavy with empathy for Mara’s suffering. She had heard Mara’s pain before, had felt it in her own core long ago, and knew that conventional treatments could only do so much; what Mara truly needed was a sense of belonging, a glimmer of hope that she could be a blessing, not a curse.

And so, Dr. Belrose devised a plan. She would introduce Mara to the Harmony Garden — a secret oasis within the hospital grounds, where nature’s healing touch whispered stories of solace and resilience. The garden was a place of sanctuary, carefully tended by Dr. Belrose herself, with lush greenery and vibrant flowers surrounding the winding pathways that led to small alcoves of serenity. A pair of wild rabbits had once ventured into the garden and made it their home, with their growing family proving an adorable and welcome challenge for Dr. Belrose to maintain the garden amid their antics.

One warm afternoon, Dr. Belrose escorted Mara to the garden, her steps hesitant yet hopeful. As they entered, they were overcome with a sense of tranquility, as the sound of the wind in the leaves and the light scent of flowers soothed their troubled souls. A tiny beige ball of fur looked up at them from the middle of the pathway, and a smile spread across Mara’s face.

For Mara, it was like stepping into another world — a world where the weight of her burdens lifted, if only for a moment, and where the beauty of nature seemed to promise renewal. Dr. Belrose watched as Mara’s eyes widened with wonder, her spirit awakening to the possibility of healing.

Over the following weeks, Dr. Belrose and Mara would spend their sessions in the Harmony Garden, soothed by the embrace of the nature, caressing the baby rabbits that stumbled upon them. They took refuge beneath the shelter of a tall oak tree, their voices mingling with the song of birds, as Mara began to unravel the tangled knots of her mind and heart.

As time went by, Mara’s demeanor changed. The shadows that once clouded her eyes began to dissipate, as lightness filtered through and lifted her spirits. She started to open up to Dr. Belrose, sharing her deepest fears and insecurities despite her reservations, trusting that she was met with understanding and acceptance.

But it wasn’t just Mara who found solace in the Harmony Garden. Dr. Belrose, too, discovered a sense of belonging within its verdant embrace, as she had once been a patient on the run who came upon the garden when it was naught more than weeds with the potential for new growth. Every day she spent watching her patient heal in that garden was a reminder of why she had chosen this path, to promote compassion in a world of indifference.

As Mara’s therapeutic journey continued, Dr. Belrose began to notice a subtle shift in her patient. Mara’s once solitary demeanour softened, replaced by a tentative openness to the world around her. It was as though the seeds of belonging planted in the Harmony Garden were beginning to take root, reaching outwards to connect with others. She had not spoken to anyone other than Dr. Belrose during her admission, preferring to isolate in her distrust, but she was beginning to show curiosity about the other patients.

Inspired by Mara’s progress, Dr. Belrose decided to organize a community experience for a larger group of patients — a chance for them to create a sense of community in their journey towards healing. She called it the “Circle of Compassion,” a regular gathering held in the Harmony Garden where patients could share their experiences, worries, and triumphs in a supportive environment.

On the day of the first Circle of Compassion, Mara hesitated at the entrance to the garden, her heart fluttering with apprehension. Would the other patients immediately recognize her worthlessness and reject her, outcasting her from the group? Would they know that her existence was a curse? Would simply being in her presence lead some of them to be injured or die? Could they sense all of this, and did they already hate her? She almost turned to run until she caught Dr. Belrose’s gentle gaze and felt soothed by her psychiatrist’s reassuring nod. Mara recalled their discussions in the garden and in a moment of bravery, she stepped inside and saw the welcoming faces of her fellow patients. Her anxiety began to melt away, replaced by a yearning for belonging.

As the group settled into a circle beneath the oak tree, Dr. Belrose invited each person to share a bit of their story, their struggles, and their hopes for the future. Mara listened intently, her heart swelling with empathy for her companions, each one bearing scars not unlike her own.

And then it was Mara’s turn to speak. With hands quivering and a voice stifled by emotion, she commenced peeling back the layers of her anguish, baring her soul. But instead of judgment or disbelief, she found only empathy and understanding in the eyes of her fellow patients.

As the Circle of Compassion continued, a sense of solidarity began to weave its way through the group, binding them together in a tapestry of shared experience and mutual support. For the first time in her life, Mara felt truly seen and heard, accepted for who she was, scars and all. Her prickly nature softened and she bloomed with amiability.

Mara was overcome with a sense of gratitude for meeting these kindred spirits who understood her. A sense of belonging dispelled her solitude. In the subsequent days and weeks, Mara’s path to healing persisted, uplifted by the solidarity of her emerging community and the steadfast mentorship of Dr. Belrose. Side by side, they traversed Mara’s convoluted journey to restoration, every stride propelling her nearer to completeness and renewal.

The transformative effects of the Circle of Compassion began to ripple beyond the Harmony Garden, touching the lives of others within the walls of Dolorem Psychiatric Hospital. The quiet whispers of healing and belonging echoed through the barren corridors, igniting a spark of hope in the hearts of those who had lost their way.

Dr. Sophia Reynolds, a seasoned psychiatrist known for her steely, cold demeanour and brusque approach, found herself drawn to the tranquility of the Harmony Garden. Skeptical at first, she had witnessed surprising reconciliations in the hallways of the hospital, as patients who once despised each other were engaged in mutual support. Her cynicism gradually gave way to curiosity and, dare she admit, admiration.

One afternoon, Dr. Reynolds found herself standing at the threshold of the Harmony Garden, her eyes tracing the meandering pathways and vibrant blooms that danced in the gentle breeze. With hesitant steps, she entered, feeling the weight of her doubts and insecurities begin to lift with each passing moment.

As she wandered through the garden, Dr. Reynolds stumbled upon the Circle of Compassion. For a brief moment, she hesitated, unsure whether to intrude upon their sanctuary. She knew some of those patients hated her; she had seen their reviews online and had consoled herself with some disparaging grumbles that elevated her above them in her mind. As she turned to leave, herself fearful of social rejection, she heard Dr. Belrose call out to her.

“We have a visitor! Sophia, would you like to join us?” Dr. Belrose smiled warmly, extending a welcoming hand. “There’s always room for one more in our little haven.”

And so, Dr. Reynolds found herself immersed in conversation with the group, her walls of skepticism crumbling in the face of their genuine warmth and friendliness. For the first time in a long while, she felt a sense of belonging at work, a glimmer of hope that perhaps there was more to psychiatry than clinical diagnoses and pharmaceutical treatments. She even started to like the patients who had written harsh words about her, and sensed that the feeling was mutual, as both parties released their dehumanizing tendencies and built genuine human connections.

As word of the Harmony Garden spread throughout the hospital, other psychiatrists began to take notice. Dr. Evelyn Carter, known for her sharp intellect and irrefutable logic, found herself drawn to the garden’s peaceful embrace. Dr. Rachel Morgan, with her boundless energy and contagious enthusiasm, organized laughter yoga sessions between the garden’s towering trees. The psychiatrists even decided to organize additional variations on the Circle of Compassion, not for the patients – but for the doctors.

Slowly but surely, a sense of community began to blossom within the walls of Dolorem Psychiatric Hospital. Psychiatrists who had once been at odds with one another now found common ground. They set aside their differences, recognizing that beneath their varying approaches lay a shared commitment to healing.

Dr. Lily Nguyen, with her gentle spirit and intuitive wisdom, facilitated mindfulness workshops in the garden, teaching her colleagues the importance of self-care and reflection. Dr. Olivia Ramirez, with her keen insight, offered support and guidance to those struggling with burnout and compassion fatigue.

And so, amidst the chaos and uncertainty of their profession, the psychiatrists of Dolorem Psychiatric Hospital found solace and strength in the Harmony Garden. They laughed together, cried together, and grew together, their differences melting away in the warm embrace of community.

In the end, it was not just the patients who found healing within the garden’s viridescent embrace, but the healers themselves. For in cultivating connection, they had discovered the true essence of their calling — to champion kindness in a world too often divided by differences.  

One day, Mara expressed her deepest gratitude to Dr. Belrose for saving her life. The psychiatrist smiled, her heart overflowing with gratitude that her dark past had not held back her purpose to be a healer not just of minds, but of souls; to cultivate kindness and belonging wherever she went, like seeds planted in fertile soil, destined to blossom into something beautiful amidst the tangled vines of the human spirit.

And as Mara stepped out of the Harmony Garden on her last day of hospital admission, she saw that the world had changed from an unsafe place to an exciting journey of endless possibility. She felt like a blessing, not a curse. And in that moment, she found deep joy in her existence.

– Patricia Celan, New Westminster


You can learn more about Patricia Celan on her website.


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