Be the Flower

This has been a heartbreaking week, a gut-wrenching month: senseless violence in Buffalo and Uvalde.  Teenage gunmen destroyed lives while people shopped at a grocery store and children and teachers were busy in their classrooms teaching and learning. The rage in the minds of these individuals is unfathomable to me.  And though this blog is about literature, art, and education, I cannot let this week go by without addressing the terrible loss and helplessness I feel due to this horrific tragedy.  There must be solutions: stiffer gun control regulations, better mental health care, and stronger protection for our school and public spaces.  This saddens me deeply. What is happening to humanity?  Are we all to live locked away in our private residences with limited social contact?  What will happen to us then? As these thoughts buzzed around my mind this week, I turned to nature, as I always do, for solace – for an answer.

Connection to nature, I believe, is a source for hope, well-being and mental health.  This spring has been filled with flowers.  There are flowers blooming around our school campus,  flowering trees in my yard, and a plethora of flowers casting their spell over many local gardens.  I pass by wild irises on the roadside, their purple tongues dotted with raindrops.  I concentrate on their color and form. I wonder at such beauty, such grace, such an exquisite being, and I want to transform myself into that flower.  I want to grow where I’m planted, feel the soil beneath my feet, spread roots, shoot up tall, and blossom. 

When I began my teaching career, I worked with preschool children.  We spent much of our time outdoors in both good and inclement weather.  The children dug in the garden and were surprised when they pulled up carrots and radishes, believing there was magic in the soil.  They loved to weed, water, and harvest.  They felt control and accomplishment.  Flowers served as a respite for us, a signal to stop and take in beauty, to breathe.  The children would gather small bouquets for me of dandelions, clover, and buttercups. They would string flowers in each other’s hair and make magic potions from the bits of vegetation they collected.  Life outside was a necessary part of their growth and development.

I remember a time, when one girl brought me a lovely red tulip.  She had dissected it, separating its stem, leaves, petals and stamen.  There were tears in her eyes as she held out her hands to me, “Put it back together,” she commanded.  I looked at the flower and wondered, at first, how I could reassemble it for her.  I took the pieces from her hands and placed them on the ground making a tulip mosaic.  I knew this was not what my student had in mind.  She thought I could mend it completely and make it whole again. When I explained to her that it couldn’t be brought back to life, she cried, and I consoled her. She learned that the flower was a delicate and fragile thing, something to care for, something to admire and cherish.  And maybe flowers are part of the answer.  They have been powerfully and wonderfully made. They are a gift from God to humanity to give us strength and make us resilient.

As often happens, a book popped out a me from our school library shelf wanting to be read.  It was a new Caldecott Honor medalist, Have You Ever Seen a Flower?  by Shawn Harris.  It is brilliantly illustrated using simple tools: pencil and colored pencil. It is childlike and surprisingly powerful in its simplicity.  The girl in the story asks the reader to really think about flowers: look deeply, take in their smells, watch them with a microscopic wonder.  Watch them so closely that you can imagine what it feels like to be a flower: to grow roots, take in water, and bloom. The book reminds us to use the flower like a resource – to grow, thrive, and blossom.  Flowers help us reflect, turn inward, and respect life.

I went searching for solace this week.  I went hunting for answers.  I found them in the form of flowers and poetry. Once destroyed, lives cannot be put back together.  Some things cannot be made whole again. But I believe that the solution for violence must be in a turn towards nature, towards beauty, towards the preciousness of life.  Consider the flower.

Sacred Trees

In my search of rest, I often find solace in trees.  I find comfort in their sturdy trunks and the variations of their bark – molted gray-green, bumpy brown, spectacular white.  Their branches reach high to the heaven and bend with the wind.  They hold homes for squirrels, birds, bugs, and other creatures.  They decorate themselves with fruits and flowers; frost and dewdrops. Their leaves magically change from green to autumns golds and reds. Trees were often my fortress growing up in the suburbs.  We climbed them, made crude treehouses, and established mighty fortress at their bases.  Trees provided me with a creative space in which to feel secure.

For ye shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace;

 the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing,

and all the trees of the field shall cap their hands.

Isaiah 55:12

Backyard Crab Apple Tree

Home place,
Beautiful blossoming tree,
Tiny sour apples,
No good for eating,
But wonderful ammunition
Against neighborhood enemies.
And lovely poison
For an imaginary brew or stew.
Low branches,
Thick and sturdy,
Make for quick climbing
Into the belly of the leaves,
Up to the top,
Quiet, hiding.
Don’t let the enemy below
Know where we are…
Shhhh… our secrets are safe
Within our crab apple fortress,
Do not disturb!

Weeping Willow Tree

Willow tree –
Spreading spring green
interlocking chains
of lacy leaves.
Protecting me,
Hiding me away.
A safe place
Of agile branches
Bending over
My broken spirit,
Enveloping me in a warm hug,
Providing quiet comfort,
Healing my child-grief,
Giving me hope,
Providing harmony
Within your supple branches.
Encouraging me to renew,
Grow stronger and bolder.
Willow, you hold out hope,
Make me feel like I belong
Within your nimble branches,
Reminding me to be
Resilient to change.