Photographer and musician Charles Austin Miles composed the beloved hymn, In the Garden, in March of 1912.
He was asked to write a song that would be, sympathetic in tone, breathing tenderness in every line; one that would bring hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary, and downy pillows to dying beds.
It’s a lovely song. The only thing I would change is the title. If I had my way, it would be called Georgia’s Song. She’s the one who brought it to life for me.
We share a special bond. In her early days at the assisted living community where I work and live out my love, Georgia was the one to whom I introduced new residents on their very first day. Leaving the known for the unknown is daunting. She had a way of putting a frightened resident at ease with a warm hello and a heartfelt hug. She instinctively knew that touch is reassuring when so much feels uncertain. In her presence, apprehension dissipated. To know her was to love her.
Georgia loved the outdoors. On warm days, she would take a leisurely stroll on the walking path around the community. She oohed and ahhed stopping often to smell the roses and to bask in the sunshine.
She loved to sing and if she couldn’t remember the words, she made them up. When the urge hit, she sang – in a crowded restaurant, on a scenic drive, during worship, sitting at a table in the dining room. She would start and, more often than not, others joined in. Two songs she knew well – the Nebraska Fight Song and In The Garden a.k.a. Georgia’s Song.
The day came when Georgia’s worsening Alzheimer’s made it necessary for her to transition from Assisted Living to the Reminiscence Neighborhood where she received specialized care. On good days she was found dispensing warm hellos and heartfelt hugs. Often she could be heard singing her song.
It was hard to watch her decline. Just getting through the day took all of her energy. She stopped walking. She stopped smiling. She stopped singing. One very difficult day she sat alone, a pillow propping her upright shielding her fragile bones from the unforgiving metal in the arms of her wheelchair. She hadn’t slept the night before and was beyond exhausted.
“Help, help, help!” she loudly called over and over again.
“Oh Georgia,” I said, my heart breaking in two, “I wish I could. I wish I knew what to do to make it all better.”
I tucked her hand in mine hoping to soothe her with my touch. One hour passed, two then three. I wrestled in my heart with God silently begging Him to come to Georgia in her need. Though I kept trying, nothing I said or did penetrated her anxious heart.
“Our Father which art in heaven hallowed be Thy name,” I prayed, speaking softly into her ear. “You’re not alone,” I assured her, “I love you.”
When this final mile has reached completion, the difference in my life between her presence and absence will be profound.
“Help, help, help.”
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” She relaxed, her breathing deepened and she settled into my hug as I continued to speak of the Great Shepherd. She quieted and I held my breath hoping she would sleep. She did . . . for a few seconds then,
“Help, help, help.”
Finally, in desperation, I began to sing her song, “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, I wasn’t certain that she understood what I was singing. And the voice I hear falling on my ear the Son of God discloses.”
I took a breath and opened my mouth to sing the first words of the chorus. To my amazement, she sang them with me, “And He walks with me…”
And I knew, I just knew at that moment that though we could not see Him, He was near.
She knew what it was to walk in the garden, to talk to her Lord, to bask in the sunshine of His love. It was not a secular poem or a popular pop song that brought her comfort. It was her song written one hundred years ago that soothed her heart.
It was that which became a downy pillow on her dying bed.