In case you didn’t know, there is a lovely garden behind the dining hall on our campus. The garden was given in memory of Leigh Horton, who died 31 years ago today, July 6th. It was the summer before Leigh’s senior year at Harpeth Hall, when she was taken from her family and friends, after a cancer diagnosis and undergoing the best treatments 1984 could offer. She was a member of the class of 1985, and their Lady of the Hall representative. It wasn’t fair or right or even fathomable that this terrible illness could take her at such a young age. When age seventeen meets mortality, it defies all that we know and hold dear in life.
Through the years I have asked teachers and friends who knew Leigh to describe her. Inevitably their eyes become misty, and they talk about how special she was. One teacher said that she embodied everything good and pure and innocent that we see in our students at this tender age. Caring, loving, and kind are always the leading adjectives, but quickly followed by engaged, bright, and curious.
Appropriately, the Leigh Horton Garden is most beautiful in the spring. Leigh will always be in the spring of her life in our minds. The soft pink and delicate peonies are there, blooming every year to remind us of Leigh. In the midst of the peonies and hydrangeas is a statue of a girl on the beach. Keats’ words, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” are inscribed under the statue. The girl represents all girls at this time of life – hopeful, thoughtful, wistful, and all of them beautiful.
I met Leigh once before she died. I knew she was sick. I didn’t know that I would think of that day so often in the years to come. I didn’t know that her family would become an extension of mine in many ways. Pausing to remember beauty on this day, even when tainted by the grief of loss, is powerful. Slowing down enough in the summer months to remember the many ways in which one person touches this place and our hearts is a good and necessary reason to linger in a garden. For that gift, I am grateful.