DANDELIONS

 

 

Near a local school, 12:30PM on this sunny Sunday, three little girls ran past me as I walked home from town. Two had hands full of dandelions; the third ran behind, calling to them—friends or sisters—to wait. It sounded like she was saying, “I don’t have any more!” Was she feeling left out? I remember that sensation all too well.

My next steps landed me in front of a perfect long-stemmed dandelion, recently plucked and then dropped on the sidewalk, so I picked it up and turned around, exclaiming, “Here’s one!” The girl stopped and did an about-face. “Here’s one that fell,” I elaborated. “Perhaps you’d like to have it.”

I held it out, and she approached. I extended my arm so she wouldn’t have to come too close to me; she reciprocated by reaching from a distance as well. She didn’t seem fearful, just wise and well-taught about strangers. Perhaps also surprised by my unexpected offer. Dandelion in hand, she turned and ran again, catching up.

Spending most of one’s time with traumatized children can make it, at times, almost startling to encounter other children in the world, children whose close and consistent care is evident. So it was for me this morning: a single glance took in the girls’ healthy complexions, tidy attire, and air of confidence.

I mused on the matter as I resumed my path. I had flashes of thought about the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) of the children I’ve come to know in my work: neglect, abandonment, victimization, exposure to violence and substances; and flashes of the little signs of growth and change that mean so much to me, like a moment of relaxation in a face that’s usually tense, a self-protective girl I know whose laughter sometimes breaks through her reserve with as much light as those fistfuls of sunshine I’d just seen.

Then suddenly there was another dandelion before me on the sidewalk—and then another, and then another, and then another, stretching from my feet toward the point near the library where, one June night, I once had a memorable second first kiss. The girls weren’t losing their flowers; they were dropping them purposefully! What grand design were they enacting, with weeds that aren’t weeds? Leaving a trail of happiness behind them, abundant as the marigolds in Monsoon Wedding.

Picking one more up, I held it to my nose and breathed it in. How had I never realized how fragrant dandelions can be? I walked home amid lilacs, flowering trees, tulips blown open, massive bumble bees. I wished the good luck of this world on everyone.

+

Out of respect for client privacy, names are always changed or omitted. Text and image copyrights held by me. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it. To subscribe and receive future posts, please look to the upper right on your computer screen, or scroll to the bottom of the page on your mobile device. Thank you for reading.

A COUNTERVAILING MAGIC

DSC02315

Last evening I was running some errands in town when the owner of a tiny used-and-antiquarian bookstore, bald in the style of a sea captain, flagged me down: he had a couple somethings I’d asked for months prior. So I went in, and settled into a narrow armchair, losing track of time until I realized that his open sign hadn’t been up, and I was likely keeping him from his tea.

He waved off my apology; he was staying late, as it happened. A young man would be bringing his girlfriend by, to guide her toward a certain book with a carved-out center containing—yes—a ring. Once said young man had proposed, the owner would clear a space for a small, well-appointed table, and a local restaurant would provide a catered meal. (I didn’t ask, but imagined a lone violinist there as well.)

Hearing that, surrounded by a warren of shelves all but obscuring the ancient blue wallpaper, with a peach-faced lovebird singing in the other room— “Alas, in a cage,” said the bookseller—was an instance of countervailing magic, the current that runs against the ills of the world. Such encounters—magic is always an encounter in some form or another—restore me to joy.

There is a great deal of pain involved in working with children. My first client, as an intern, was a little girl whose mother punched her in the nose and took an ax to her father’s car; she couldn’t concentrate in class and wept for the loss of an animal she’d loved, plus everything else, tears that shook her frame. We did a sensory inventory one day, and the wind spoke to her and told her to find her own safe place in the landscape at home; she let a pond remind her of peace, and the sun shining through a leafy trellis bring her hope. Magic: her dear, intelligent face, as we meditated at a picnic table, beneath the tall tall trees and a vibrant sky. May it carry her forth.

+

If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it. To subscribe and receive future posts, please click the “Follow” button, accompanied by a plus-sign, in the lower right corner of your computer screen.

 

CROCUSES AND EMPATHY

Hydrangea

What’s this about April being the cruelest month?* You’d never catch a pollinator saying that! Not in this latitude, anyway. After a seemingly endless winter, with its freezing sleep, the earth is waking up—and I, for one, spend my days diving in and out of crocuses. You haven’t lived until you’ve felt the great sky behind you but suddenly distant, the violet silk of petals all around, and golden pistils lighting your way into the chambers of another world…

Okay, so I’m not a bee—but I remember vividly a time last summer when I noticed a hydrangea tree buzzing all over. As I paused to watch one bumble bee at his labors, his back legs thickly padded with pollen, something about the way he dipped again and again into the same blossom gave me a dizzying physical sensation of his motion. At a certain point, he cupped the blossom and pressed it close around his head, and I felt a kind of creature-to-creature empathy.

This became one of the activities in my mindfulness class at the jail: not to imagine we could know another’s thoughts or feelings, but to give ourselves over to the pure sensation we might extrapolate from various physical cues. Right now I’m facing a wall; what would it be like to be on the other side of the table, facing the door? I’m wearing a soft aqua sweater today; what would it be like to wear a worn gray sweatshirt instead? What would it be like to be taller, more muscular, bearded? What would it be like to hold my forehead with that tension, deeply creased? One group member was driven half-mad by a noisy cellmate, and I suggested he imagine, next time the man was carrying on, those words at that volume issuing from his own mouth.

To evoke the spirit of the activity, I passed out photocopies of this poem by Pattiann Rogers, who kindly gave me permission to post it here.

 

+

 

Suppose Your Father Was a Redbird

 

Suppose his body was the meticulous layering

Of graduated down which you studied early,

Rows of feathers increasing in size to the hard-splayed

Wine-gloss tips of his outer edges.

 

Suppose, before you could speak, you watched

The slow spread of his wing over and over,

The appearance of that invisible appendage,

The unfolding transformation of his body to the airborne.

And you followed his departure again and again,

Learning to distinguish the red microbe of his being

Far into the line of the horizon.

 

Then today you might be the only one able to see

The breast of a single red bloom

Five miles away across an open field.

The modification of your eye might have enabled you

To spot a red moth hanging on an oak branch

In the exact center of the Aurorean Forest.

And you could define for us “hearing red in the air,”

As you predict the day pollen from the poppy

Will blow in from the valley.

 

Naturally you would picture your faith arranged

In filamented principles moving from pink

To crimson at the final quill. And the red tremble

Of your dream you might explain as the shimmer

Of his back lost over the sea at dawn.

Your sudden visions you might interpret as the uncreasing

Of heaven, the bones of the sky spread,

The conceptualized wing of the mind untangling.

 

Imagine the intensity of your revelation

The night the entire body of a star turns red

And you watch it as it rushes in flames

Across the black, down into the hills.

 

If your father was a redbird,

Then you would be obligated to try to understand

What it is you recognize in the sun

As you study it again this evening

Pulling itself and the sky in dark red

Over the edge of the earth.

 

Pattiann Rogers

from The Dream of the Marsh Wren: Writing As Reciprocal Creation

 

* T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land.”