Sunday, 8 February 2009

It Takes A Lot of Shit

Our worst experiences can become the defining moments that lead us to personal greatness. In other words: It takes a lot of shit to grow great flowers.

But it doesn’t end with the worst experiences—we all know that flowers need more than dirt. Of course, we have to water those flowers, often with our tears. And when the littlest beam of sunlight finally breaks through our emotional clouds, the sprouts emerge, seed leaf and single root, extending themselves, hungrily stretching their bounds. Until one day, seemingly quite suddenly, spring is here and the sun is shining, and you look around to discover you’re surrounded by a field of blooms.

It's all going to be okay.

Like all things in nature, those flowers are transitory. We forget this fact, quite often. Being tool-wielding creatures fascinated by permanent structures--stone monuments and ancient pyramids--we expect everything around us to remain just as we see it. And we extend this belief to our best selves.

If we are built rather than grown, then it is our parents who built us—physically, emotionally, culturally. That creation takes sweat and blood and regular maintenance to remain healthy in so many little ways. When we are broken or hurting, we turn to the masseuse, the doctor, the psychotherapist—the repairmen. When it comes to our deeper selves, we can pay someone to fix the cracks, but not the structural damage. Sometimes we have to tear it all down and start again.

Personally, I think we're more organic than that. We're not starting over from scratch or patching up with Bondo. Rather I see us absorbing the decayed moments of the past as we grow atop them, in a never-ending cycle of death and renewal.

The flowers?

The flowers wilt.

My daughter has always had a love-hate relationship with flowers. She’d pick daisies and roses and random weeds out of peoples’ yards on our walks, entranced by the magic of petals and leaves held aloft by such fragile stems. Some would go carefully into her pocket. Some were given to Mommy because she knew with her child mind that I would see their beauty just as she did. After all, I was the adult extension of her tiny body, wasn’t I? Most days, I think she saw me more like a sock, keeping her warm when it was chilly, kicked off when the sun was shining and the sprinkler puddles just too inviting not to run from my grasp. Splash and pick the flowers.

But the flowers would always wilt. Their limp petals mirrored her fallen face, desperate to bring them back to life by drowning them in a glass of water. I would hide the glass behind a box of crackers, toward the back of the kitchen counter, agreeing that surely the water would help. Her emotional storm eventually quieted and a new activity replaced her fixation with a more positive outcome—beating me at “go fish” usually did the trick. Thank God we can’t have any pets in our apartment. I remember my brother’s death-watch of a beloved fish at age nine and don’t care to imagine the power of ten by which my little girl’s reaction would be magnified, watching any animal die.

Because the flowers always die.

You stand in that browning field, wondering what you did wrong. Sometimes it is something you’ve done. More often than not, it has nothing whatsoever to do with you. Action begets reaction, which begets further action, in the unbroken chain of tiny events that make up our cultural and biological history. We don’t see that daisy chain of moments. Each of us the center of our own private universes, we see only the causes and effects of our own experiences.

Those flowers died because of…me? Or you? It depends on your level of narcissism.

Sadness drowns us and we have trouble seeing the bigger picture through the tears. Because, you see, those flowers never die in vain. Did you not notice the bees? The butterflies and moths? They are the strangers, ignored; the annoyance of an acquaintance—the grocer, the mechanic, the aloof third-grade teacher. Even the people we love, all of whom leave within us gentle reminders of our essential connectedness. We may not have noticed, but each left its indelible mark on the future. Each pollinated us as the insects pollinated the flowers, surrounded by now-fallen petals at our feet. And each left within us silently dreaming seeds.

How long until they feel the safety of soft earth surrounding them?

Those fields will bloom again, my friend. They always do, year after year. Sometimes the season is longer, sometimes shorter, but always it returns, eventually. And all of the fertilizer of the wasted, worrisome, horrible, even horrific, events of our lives will feed them, just as it always has.

My Sweet Pea rarely picks the flowers, any more. We watch them bloom and smell them, touch them and love them where they live, and then we wave good-bye. They drop their seeds or hibernate for the winter. Our walks become less frequent as we move indoors with the changing season. Until spring, when we emerge like the insects from our busy hive to watch the patient gardeners carefully sprinkle the stinking manure that grows such great flowers.

And each moment passes into the next.

Will you join me as we sit patiently in the dirt? It’s so much easier to wait together. We can hold one another as we water the future with our combined tears. We’ll share the beauty of that first beam of light, the first seedlings, the first daring buds.

Together, we will celebrate the slowly-opening moments of our recovery.

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