My time is special in the garden that my late father conceived and delicately cared for in the San Francisco Bay Area. It still blooms under the tender hands of my mother. It has been 55 years since the first seeds were sown there. A modest plot minuscule to earth, a rich place still vast with lessons.

When I visit, I joyfully put my hands and shovel into the soil, doing my best to help keep it looking robust. As I work, I aim to honour my mother, the memory of my dear father, and their immigrant journey. I affectionately call the garden Scotland Yard.

It was here that Scotland, England, America were discussed, immigrant relatives gathered, Second World War veterans spoke of their time at war, children and dogs played, loved ones grieved. While there is still certainly energy here, the vigour of those times has largely passed. Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?

For me the aroma of those memories still lingers amidst the scent of flowers, sings out with the songs of birds. Rather than melancholy, I feel gratitude and optimism as I sit here watching a squirrel silently gather what it can.

I often use the expression, ‘we are in this together.’ Considering that power, I embrace the idea that a unified and collective strength far exceeds the impact of our going at matters alone. Can we draw courage from the past? Without question. The hands of those who came before us were indeed sturdy and hardy. We owe them much. Now here we stand in our place. We are all gardeners with tools and talents in hand to cultivate and nurture others and ourselves. There is no better time to embrace that role.

So many across the world are living through a season of anxiousness and darkness, finding no rays of comfort to lift their wilted souls. They face war, abject poverty, dire health conditions. We live in times where many lean in close to embrace an invasive hopelessness, yielding to the weeds that starve off growth. We even witness some who nurture thorns and advance barbs for personal gain. I have personally felt doubt and turns of dwindling confidence on my journey. Perhaps you are experiencing it today. Identifying how society or how we personally arrived at these moments is always relevant.

I wish to draw a lesson from the garden. One of my Scottish American heroes, Frances ‘Fanny’ Wright, once said, “Know why you believe, understand what you believe, and possess a reason for the faith that is in you.” Wright is speaking of the most important nurturing we can do, and that is within ourselves. She often spoke and wrote directly to this lesson.

We possess tools and talents with which to garden within. We can work to define our shape, enrich our colour, trim away the suffocating weeds within us. It is there within that our hands get dirty digging and planting in the soil of our souls. We also have many family members, friends, work colleagues, student peers around us who stand ready to assist.

In January, we ring in the New Year. I have always found the transition from summer to autumn is often more conducive to new starts and fresh paths. Here we are at that seasonal gate. We turn the key and will enter a garden that we can plow, form, and nurture. We have a direct role in shaping it.

Many years from now somebody will sit in the same season we find ourselves today. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in that moment they reflected, taking rest in the pedals and encouraging lessons we collectively left behind? We have the tools in hand to achieve this, and I am motivated to be in the gardens of the world working together with positive individuals like you.

Ian Houston has spent his career as an advocate for diplomacy, trade, poverty alleviation, and intercultural dialogue. He promotes commercial, educational, artistic, and charitable linkages between Scotland, UK, and the US. He is an Honorary Professor at the University of the West of Scotland and honorary Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen. He is located in the Washington, DC area. His views are his own.