Monday, May 12, 2014

Safe Places

I still visit that garden in my dreams. Usually I am up in the walnut tree, perched above the world, safe in the swaying embrace of those smooth branches. My hands are stained with sap from the husks of the nuts. In my dreams the ground is covered with sweet violets, which is not accurate really. The violets come from another place of safety and beauty, the woodlands of post world war two Japan where I wandered freely all the daylit hours of spring and summer. There too I climbed trees and rested against their strength. It was the safe place.

It makes sense that my dreams would combine the two safe places of my young life. At the edges are always the hollyhocks, row on row of them. My grandmother planted them against the wall of the house but they rushed out into the heart of the walnut treed garden, and in my dreams they are many and beautiful.

They were one of my first memories. I learned to walk surrounded by hollyhock towers. And they were there, those spires of star centered blooms, for all my childhood visits, well into my teen years. My grandmother made me dolls and fancy earrings. We had tea parties in the walnut tree shade.

The hollyhocks stood as people disappeared from my life, as inexplicable things happened. I sat in the walnut tree and watched them grow, all colors, red and yellow, white, pink, deep purple.

That garden is under asphalt now. It is a parking lot for a large Safeway in the San Fernando Valley in southern California. It has been that for many years, one of the lost places of my long life.

So much vanishes, you know. All the places we have stood, all those points where we loved or grieved. All those people we thought we’d see again. All those good intentions.

I was an Air Force brat, uprooted frequently, a wanderer like many I meet these days. But I had in my heart a walnut tree , the memory of violet strewn woodlands, the brave torches of hollyhocks. No one will ever take those from me.

And when I found a place to root my life, I planted gardens. I planted hollyhocks for my children, and I gave seeds away.

It’s all about where you rest your heart, you know. In all the turmoil and terrible knowledge, where you sit and embrace the air, where you rejoice, where you are safe.

For you it might not be the hollyhock borders. But whatever it is, recognize it, hold it fast, pass it on.

This afternoon I was sharing information, despair, and hope with one of my local friends and allies. We know, between us, too much of struggles and stories. We are the ones who answer the door to someone with broken bones or broken lives or broken dreams. There are, trust me, not enough bandages in the world to patch up all the hurt. But we try. And we try to keep our own hearts patched together too. You can’t do much good if you are howling in the night. Well, at least not every night.

As she turned to go she said “wait, I have something for you”.

She poured into my open hand a little pile of hollyhock seeds. Pink and purple she said, from her uncle’s garden some 8 years back, ready to grow and spread.

Yes…whatever that beauty is, whatever that safety, whatever that hope—we need to grow it, love it, and give it away.

Yeah, I planted more hollyhocks this evening.