Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Garden

This morning I woke up dreaming of a garden. The dream unfolded calm and fluid. Shafts of milky sunlight illuminated flowers blowing in a light breeze, and in the dream, I knew it was the end of summer. I felt every petal and blade of grass intimately, the sounds of life around me, heightened. Behind me, stood my grandmother, her head bent modestly, an errant lock of  hair caressing her right eye as always, the faint smell of lilacs and egg white on her warm, white skin. In the dream, she explains to me how the red poppies grow and then, she points to the yarrow  growing around the garden and that it is known for it's healing qualities. Her words are rhythm only, like listening to a babbling brook of water gliding over stone. I understand everything and nothing at the same time.

Why is my beloved grandmother here, on this day of remembrance? On this day when I am in a space where I find myself  wishing to move on.  Yes, I will gladly say a prayer for the dead -  but then let me go, let's all go -  further than that one place of sorrow and shock.

She waits patiently, forming words with her eyes. She wants me to unlock the secret of the garden. 


Grandmother was a witchy woman (she is crossing herself now, appalled that I would use this word to describe her) and she knew her herbs, the folklore wisdom of old Bosnia, deep inside her, even though she would not have admitted to it. Bosnia. The place, like other places, carries the shame of war memories whenever mentioned aloud. My Baka, felt this shame, more than most.

I go deeper into my dream, to look for meaning.  I want to know why she is whispering to me in my sleep about Poppies, which I don't remember her liking, indeed I don't remember any growing in the fields surrounding us when I was a little girl.  The Yarrow, though, grew abundantly and she never failed to point it out it better qualities.

Achillea Millefolium - the Yarrow. She would bring back bunches of it and spread it on newspaper on the kitchen table to dry along with other roots and stalks from her daily walks. From the dried pieces, she would make tinctures and pomades, wraps and powders. Tiny little pieces of white paper with abbreviated names indicating prescription. These were written in German but with Serbo Croatian accents over 'sh' and 'ch' sounds, as she was only patient with some things and not with others - so never bothered to perfect her Deutsch.

When we had bruises, stomach ache, head pain, cuts and fever she would rub and knead and administer with damp cloths or tiny droppers her magic potions and heal us whole. And so, a whole brood of us grew up with witchy blessings on our heads, crosses around our necks and herb tinctures mixed in our blood.

Here is a story.....As a young man, Achilles the famous soldier/hero of ancient times was schooled by Chiron the Centaur.  Chiron was versed in medicine and the healing arts and supposedly passed his powerful knowledge on to Achilles. In his turn, Achilles the leader/prince taught his troops to use yarrow flower to stop the bleeding and hemorrhaging of wounds received during their epic battles. Hence the Latin name for Yarrow: Achillea.

Soldiers, Hero's, War, Magic, Wisdom. There. I see a pattern emerging from the dream....

Poppies too, I discovered,  live deep in our psyche as a symbol of sacrifice and memory. Somewhere there is a poem about fallen soldiers and poppies that spring up around their unmarked graves. In Greek and Roman myths, poppies were used as offerings to the dead and by the Christians as a symbol of resurrection.

Red, Christ, Blood, Dreams and Memories, Acceptance, maybe 

I'm not sure what the dream aims to show me. Today is a ritual of remembering for many, though it is not about mourning soldiers or wise men or herbologist Centaurs, I know. 

It is about remembering ordinary citizens on that day, the 11th of September, going about their business of life one minute and then dead the next.

 I think about them in the city and the skies and at the same time, I think about all the others too -  the people caught in between ideologies and fantasies, dreams and delusions. I think about soldiers on foreign soil and how unbelievable that is, to me. 

 Ordinary people going about their business of life one minute and then dead the next.

What were the words she said that would unlock the meaning of the dream, unlock the meaning of the jumble that is life and death, war and peace, forgiveness and acceptance? I will never know. 


  1. It seems to me that this story is about the mystery and alchemy of human adaptation to the consequences of our human life.

  2. In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

    "In Flanders Fields" by Lt. Col. John McCrae

  3. Thank you Skip, for your comments on this piece. I loved waking up to the memory of my grandmother, who I adored - and this message of the flowers and the stayed with me all day. Certainly too, on a day like to day where collectively we remember the 9/11 tragedy - the symbol of a woman like my Bosnian grandmother, who not only survived the two great wars, but was able to heal and to give through out her life in spite of the devastation that wrought on her life is a guiding light for what you call this process - the " alchemy of human adaptation to the consequences of our human life"

  4. Dearest, I had to come back this morning to read your words again. I needed to be transported into your realm, to let myself float and be nourished by your words & the healing wisdom of the ancestors. Thank You for keeping their memory and testimonial alive.