As I walked through the heart of the gritty Bermondsey neighborhood, I wandered down one small, curving street after another -- hopeful that I was still basically headed in the direction of Borough Market. I ran into a little pub on a corner and started taking some photos of it. As I was moving around, getting different angles of the pub -- I spotted a van parked on the street and saw that inside the van were shelves full of books.
I walked over to the van, and it turns out it was a mobile library run by Quakers. I started talking to Simon, one of the men who ran the mobile library, and he told me that they made a couple of runs each week. That morning they were serving the Manna Centre, a nonprofit that provides food and resources for homeless people. While I was talking to Simon, I noticed a man observing our conversation.
After I ended the conversation with Simon, the other man introduced himself -- David -- and asked if I wanted to walk with him for a couple of minutes to go see a nearby urban garden that had a little shared, "honor" library in it. He told me the name of the garden, but I couldn't quite understand him. Now, I know many of you may be thinking -- stranger danger! -- but here's the thing, I am confident in my gut feelings about whether I can trust people or not. And I felt sure about my gut feeling to trust David, and I felt drawn to go see this urban garden with him.
As David and I walked to the garden, I asked him about his life. I don't feel comfortable retelling it here -- as it's his private story -- but needless to say, he has had a great many disadvantages in his life. And yet now, he is firmly back on his feet. I found myself asking him, "But how did you get back up on your feet? People who have gone through much lesser challenges can't get back up on their feet?" He responded quietly, kindly, "The thing is, when most people say, 'I can't,' what they mean is is, 'I won't.'"
As we got closer to the garden, David told me more about it -- that it had been a dilapidated cut-through in a less than desirable area, but that a group of people and organizations, including well known architects and gardeners, had transformed it into a shared garden space. I asked him to repeat the name of it -- and he said it was called, "Gibbons Rent." The name sounded familiar but I couldn't quite place it.
When we came to the garden, David walked me through it and pointed to the parts that he had contributed and the pieces he had built himself. As we were leaving the garden, I realized that when I was in London last year -- I had attended a panel discussion at the British Library about gardens in the Georgian era. One of the speakers on the panel was a world renowned landscape gardener named Sarah Eberle, and she talked about how she had used gardens as a tool to revitalize urban areas. One of her projects had been Gibbons Rent. I watched David walk back to the Manna Centre, and I smiled to myself. Because I knew the dots were starting to connect.