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 Rest

Walking through the winter gauntlet that is January and February, I have been on the hunt for rest, not just sleep but rest – physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and sensory.  I have found some inspiration these past weeks from a book recommended by a colleague who is also seeking rest. 

Sacred Rest by Dr. Saundra Dalton Smith skillfully explains the  need for rest to restore not only physical health, but emotional and spiritual health as well. The book is formatted in a way that allows the reader/patient to easily pick the chapters they want to focus upon according to what type of rest they are seeking. Dr. Dalton Smith provides her readers with supplemental materials to guide them towards a healthier, restful lifestyle.  Through her website, she provides quizzes, podcasts, playlists, and prayers to help readers on their journey towards a restorative, happier life.

Indeed, the author explains the medical reasons behind the need for rest and sleep, and meticulously gives information on recent studies in each area of rest.  However, the most beneficial information that Dr. Dalton Smith provides is her insight as a fellow human, woman, wife, and mother. She is walking this road with us and has good news to share.  I was comforted by her approach that includes the importance of spiritual rest for the complete healing of the mind and body, and her inclusion of creative rest to bolster the spirit.  My own way of seeking rest has always been through poetry, which are prayerful reflections. They hadn’t always been this way, but they are now.  Poetry helps me connect with people and with God.  It connects me to nature and to myself.  It centers me and comforts me and provides the rest I so deeply desire.

Sacred Rest

Each night, I seek sleep.
Electronic devices are put to bed.
Vivaldi plays softly in the  background,
Chamomile tea steeps in a favorite cup.
I stretch and breathe and stretch,
Brush my teeth, wash my face –
Seek sleep.
Don comfy pajamas and toasty socks,
Sip the tea, inhale its calming aroma,
Snuggle into bed beneath layers of blankets,
Arrange my pillow such so –
Inhale – one… two… three… four…
Exhale – one… two… three… four…
My muscles relax,
My mind seeks peace,
I am drifting in the darkness,
Held by invisible hands.
My mind is empty, my body is still.
I am at rest, asleep but not yet dreaming.
My eye pop open in the darkness.
Two a.m. and all is quiet, but my mind.
I rearrange myself under the covers,
Plump the pillow, consciously breath –
Inhale – one… two… three… four…
Exhale – one… two… three… four…
I let the rhythm take me once again,
Drifting up into the infinite sky,
Rolling in the unfathomable ocean,
Waves take me far out past everything known.
I am held in a dark embrace
Till morning.