I had an unopened tin of Chinese green tea in my kitchen cabinet. Rather than let it sit there un-drunk for any more days, I gave it to new friend Connie, one of the most delightful people I have met in a long time. Connie is what I hope to be like when I am in my eighties – elegant, sharp and full of enthusiasm for life and culture and people. She and her husband Jim own and manage a traditional Japanese garden in Pasadena, the Storrier Stearns Garden (www.japanesegardenpasadena.com), one of the finest Japanese gardens in the United States. Originally built in the 1930s as part of a large estate and purchased by Jim’s mother in 1949, the garden was left to languish in the 1970s and 1980s because of plans for a freeway extension that would run right through it. However, since the 1990s, when the specter of the freeway began to retreat, Connie and Jim have spent a considerable amount of time, energy and money restoring the garden and its teahouse to their former glory. Now, as well as hosting weddings and other private events in the beautiful space, they are in the process of transforming it into a venue for cultural and educational events.
It is fascinating to me what people choose to do with the later years of their lives. Some people retire and take up new hobbies like golf or watercolor painting; others choose to travel, read more books or spend more time with grandchildren. Of course, there are those who don’t retire at all, preferring to continue the work they love and in some cases even taking on new, more demanding projects, as is the case with Connie and Jim. When I met Connie, I was so taken by her and inspired by their Japanese Garden project that I instantly wanted to help nurture the future of this very special garden and carry some of her burden. Over the past few months, we have shared many thoughts and ideas and concerns about the possible evolution of the garden, about how it can become a space that promotes culture, nature, and health – health of not just our bodies but of our minds and of our environment. Today, as we sipped the green tea together and talked, I knew it wasn’t just the caffeine in the drink that was lifting my spirits.