The poppy has long been a person symbol for me. Interestingly perhaps, not in conjunction with Remembrance Day or the ‘poppy poem’ specifically. But if I think about it, there is a connection.
I first saw poppies in my mother’s English garden that was stuffed with tall bush-like flowers – bleeding hearts, flocks, rudbeckia and poppies. The soft terra cotta petals flapped in the breeze and the entire cluster swayed on strong, slender stems. Later I noticed them in impressionist paintings of the French countryside – fields of poppies with a warm yellow-stone cottage behind. I found them exquisitely lyrical, Romantic with a capital R. They spoke to me of the longing for a more pastoral life.
When I was fourteen, my family and I were driving through exactly such a setting on a trip through Provence. All at once, as we were about to pass it by, I called out from the back seat for my father to stop the car. I wanted to run through the poppy field. This was not such an unusual request in my family. My father read Proust. My mother was a language teacher and literature buff. They were also in favour of retreating to the country for months at a time. And so, my father pulled over and l jumped out of the car and flung myself across a huge ditch onto the edge of the field.
Almost immediately I discovered that my idea of running through the field was more symbolic that realistic. Perhaps it was the time of year. There were large, dry clumps of mud that made it almost impossible to walk even, and the grasses that played host to the flowers were so dense and tall I decided to simply look into the floppy depths of the flower, at its dark textured centre. But I had so much wanted to run, freely and with abandon.
As an adult during visualization meditations I have often brought to mind the image of the poppy and the ideal of freedom: freedom from convention, freedom to be oneself. And yet, I was aware that we often confuse freedom with independence or isolationism, from the free nation to the hermit in the cave. But getting right down to it, the poppy grows in large clusters of plants. They grow wild, but in communities and in amongst other crops. They understand the lack of independent existence. The worldly experience is one of enmeshment. And within this enmeshment we thrive.
In my final year of university, one of the few books I had time to read (every night in fact) was Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. No matter how challenging the multiple essays all due the same week, no matter how intense the fear and unknowing of what the future held after leaving the safety of the university walls, I could always find respite in the author’s credo: share, look, and “when you go out into the world its best to hold hands and stick together”.
This is the freedom of the poppy – to seek the sun, and allow its artfully crimped petals to blow in the wind, while holding firm to the earth and the cluster. It is the rootedness that allows us to rise in freedom, the strong community of nations that affords us true peace.
I have been reflecting on this today: holding hands, we go out in the world together, known, seen, accepted by our tribe of friends, family and neighbours with all our idiosyncratic ways. And as we feel rooted, then we are able very organically to extend that deep sharing and the gift of presence. We say it often enough – most people just want to be loved, to be understood and appreciated. How do we as a community accomplish this. To share, look and spend time together.
Remembrance Day at my children’s public school is a very moving tribute to this coming together for a certain ritual – the moment of silence – to experience something together. It is a rare occurrence in our society of individualism and decreasing participation in religious and community institutions. But maybe this is causing a growing consciousness of how we connect with one another, and watch out for ageing neighbours. How do we create space to just be with someone. Here are some crib notes I’ve made for myself:
- Stop and take notice when something strikes you as notable for any reason. Take time for a breath and to really experience it: whether it is a garden well tended, a kind word, or a sign that someone is reaching out for support.
- Look someone in the eyes when they are talking to you, breathe and listen without prescripting a response.
- Reach out and touch someone. In the ‘north’ we are often hesitant about touching other people – hug friends and family a moment longer than you normally do; touch a friend on the arm in greeting; hold hands more, find time to squeeze and cuddle the kids.
- Let someone know you appreciate them for the everyday things they do and the ways they show up in life. It is not in the extraordinary that we are special, but in the small ways of being that we live day to day.
- Find ways of participating in the community whether it is joining together for a raking or shoveling party on the street, hosting a potluck or going to a service at a school, church or community centre, or a local art event.
- Be brave: even if you have no one to go with, reach out, attend. You will be surprised how receptive people are when someone shows up to an event on their own.
- Love is not just a type of relationship, it is a way of being in the world. When we can find our roots in life, we can blossom forth in love both for ourselves, for others, animals and the natural world. Love is a response to life which we sometimes fear and stifle. Root down and blossom in love.