Tonight my heart is raw. Not from sadness, not from despair. Not from loneliness or hopelessness.
In fact, quite the opposite is true. It is full. It is inspired. It has been challenged, loved, overwhelmed and is now simply raw. And I am really, really tired. One of the many little tiny seeds that have scattered into my life, at one point or another, has taken root. Maybe even two or three or twenty seven. I don’t think I will ever be able to count, but at least I have been blessed with an opportunity to truly see that I am growing.
This rambling is not specifically about gardening, it will not detail what veggies are ripe or which flowers are blooming in my yard. It is, however, about growth. It is about the strength of a few little “seeds” that can grow into something so beautiful they could never be captured in words or photographs. It is about the need for support, the need for nourishment, the need to be loved and the need to have roots while still striving to reach upwards. It is simply what is in my heart. I am writing this rambling tonight because I have just spent the last 3 days being reminded that truly wonderful people, who wish for nothing more than to help others, day in and day out, are very, very present in my life and I was’t even consciously aware of how badly I needed that reminder. Yes, tonight I am writing a very emotional memoir. It may make me vulnerable, it may make me cry again as I type and it may not be of any consequence in the end. But if just one person reads it and is re-invigorated after feeling dragged down by whatever individual situation that is their reality in this moment, then it is worth it. If that one person shares it and others read and relate, that would be even more worth it. I feel that if I did not acknowledge and share the little seeds that have taken root, they could simply blow away, and what purpose could that serve?
So here are the little “seeds” that have been scattered throughout the many, many facets of my life and what I was so humbly reminded of this weekend as I sat at what I hoped would be an interesting, educational (and maybe even fun) Professional Development Conference. It was so, so, so much more than that.
I am a health professional – which profession really does not matter in this context though I am incredibly proud of my peers and of my profession. Every day I encounter patients in pain, who have reduced mobility, sometimes with experiences and beliefs that keep them prisoner from their potential, who suffer because we don’t have an “answer”, who don’t always know how to cope with their own reality or who may lack support to face their new realities. Sometimes they simply have to be on crutches for a few weeks but that means they cannot fulfill their roles within their family unit, sometimes they have such catastrophic injuries that they may never be able to return to the life they knew.
I come to them with my own experiences, my own beliefs and my own background as well as my own limitations and coping strategies. And sometimes I don’t always remember that the encounters are not about me but because they are hard for me, I pull on my shell so as not to be vulnerable. Or I look at the person like a standard package of seeds; looking at the 2 dimensional cover picture, reading the directions, following the guidelines and then become baffled when they do not do what I expect them to. I don’t mean to, but it happens. I was reminded that my role is not to impart my knowledge, assume the person receiving it will accept it and then lay blame on them when they do not flourish as I expected.
I was reminded that not only at my work, but in every area of life, people suffer. Deep inside, we all just need to feel valued. We all need to be validated and heard. Not just listened to, but heard. We all need support and a strong root system if we are going to grow. I was challenged to the core to remember that though it is my “job” to treat people and help them to improve their function, it is my purpose to “Forget-them-not” and always remember that there is a vulnerable little seed in each of us. I can be the nourishment and the support, I can provide the space to flourish or the windbreak for protection for those who may be vulnerable. I can be the advocate and the voice for those tiny seeds surrounded by weeds who may not know how to find their way on their own. But I can also very easily be the hail, the grasshopper, the hurricane or the hungry deer. Without realizing it, I can cause harm and hurt by simply not hearing what I should have. In every area of my life, in all of my interactions and especially in my profession, it is the lives, the values and the beliefs of others that I need to hear and remember. Not just mine.
I am always amazed at how little a Russian Mammoth seed is compared to the flower that grows from it. I am struck by how spindly the little seedling is when it pokes out. Yet, given the right conditions, one little sunflower seed that falls out of the bird feeder into earth that is ready for it, can grow and grow and grow! It matures into a flower that physically smiles into the light! It’s smile is infectious and as it continues to grow, it produces more and more and more seeds!
That one little seed never set out meaning to make a difference in the garden. It certainly never intends to feed hungry birds with the thousands of it’s own seeds that are produced as it’s season winds to an end. And it could never possibly have imagined how far it’s little seeds could be spread by those hungry little birds as they scatter them abroad.
There are sunflowers in my life. There are sunflowers in my family, there are sunflowers at my church, there have been many, many, many sunflowers in my patients. They can never fully understand the impact they have had with their big, sunny, light chasing smiles. And the most beautiful part about the sunflowers in my life and those I witnessed this weekend is that they don’t want to be roses – they are not looking for any recognition or renumeration, they simply want to share the joy of their smiles and are brave enough to do it.
But for sunflowers to produce enough seed to feed the birds and be spread as they fly, they too must have fertile, receptive soil and be given lots of light and space. The inspiring people I heard speaking this weekend and many others I have encountered in my life are truly beautiful Sunflowers. And hopefully those of us listening are the elements they need to keep growing. Without all those supports, or when left alone without light, the smile fades and the flower droops. The quiet supporting elements are just as important to keep the Sunflower smiling!
Hen and Chicks
These are amazing little plants. They do not propagate from seed, they don’t spread far and they don’t put on a big show. But they thrive in a variety of settings and together they stay strong as the Mama hovers over. I love how wikipedia describes them ~ “The “hen” is the main plant, and the “chicks” are the offspring, which start as tiny buds on the main plant and soon sprout their own roots, taking up residence close to the mother plant.” As I finished my conference, I walked to towards the water to meet my children and my father for an evening sail. The Halifax Waterfront on a warm sunny day truly is one of my favourite places to be. I grew up spending time on or near the water and it is where I go when I grow weary. The shear enormity of the ocean can be overwhelming, but the harbour is a safe, welcoming inlet bursting with life. I love my little girls, truly, deeply, simply. To bursting. They try me, they push me, they challenge me, but they always fill me. Obviously, they are the “chicks” to my “hen”.
But I realized I have the opportunity to help other “chicks”. After listening to a story at the conference that touched far too close to home professionally about a patient who was lost to suicide and how that experience affected one of my peers to advocate on behalf of hundreds of thousands who could have been lost within themselves or the system, I walked towards the water with a renewed drive to keep pushing for what I know to be right in my heart. When I see that something is happening and that I may be able to advocate on behalf of someone, I have to.
I am not going to create new policy or change the world. There is little chance that more than a handful will ever remember my name when I am gone, but everyday I have the honour of building relationships with one new person at a time. It won’t be necessary for each new patient, each new friend or each family member, but I need to strive to recognize those moments when I need to be someone’s “Hen” to their “chick”. It may only help one person at a time, and it may not be significant to anyone else but them, but it must be done.
The little plants that grow in the woods, deep in the shade, where few venture sometimes have the capacity to produce the most beautiful blooms. The final seed I want to share is the Trillium. This was not part of my conference. This was not part of the times I spent with my friends or even the girls afterwards. It was simply one of those moments when I was wrapped up in a task and something from the shade came to light.
I was helping my Dad prep the sailboat to leave the floating dock and as I was untying ropes and telling kids to put on life jackets and watching for other boats, a man called to me from the wharf above. He simply called to me said he had a gift for me. He was scruffy and dirty but there was a little light in his eye and he was smiling from his heart. He was clearly someone who was from the “shade”. He was reaching out his hand to toss something down to me, so I smiled and commented on what a lovely day it was. He beamed back and told me I had pretty hair and that a butterfly would be perfect in it. I wasn’t sure what he meant, but he obviously meant no harm. I am not sure why, but I reached up and he handed me a little silver clip. On the clip was a delicate silver butterfly and 2 little flowers. The clip itself was broken, and it was very likely a trinket he had found on the boardwalk that no one else would value. But I will value it. My girls will remember it. And as I climbed onto our sailboat and we pulled away from the dock, he smiled and waved and wished us well. My wee girl held the butterfly clip in her little hand, smiling and waving back. To us he was not a plant in the shade, he was a beautiful trillium that we were blessed to simply see for a moment.
And again I am crying. It was the simple act of giving to make someone else feel valued that touched me so deeply. It was the look in the eyes of my little girls and the smiles on their faces that made my soul soar because I knew they understood in their hearts what this little gesture meant. Here I was, leaving a conference about how I could go out and change lives and support others who were changing the world. Here I was, in nice clothing, surrounded by my family, climbing onto a beautiful sailboat. And here he was, from the “shade”, what many would consider broken and worthless. Yet he was the one who gave me such a beautiful gift. He was the one with nothing but a smile, a few kind words and a broken clip with a delicate little butterfly and 2 pretty little flowers. And I was the one who felt valued and loved.
Maybe, just maybe, I am the delicate little butterfly, my girls are the 2 pretty flowers, growing all the time but always close to me, and maybe it is actually my patients, my friends and my family who are the supports and nourishment I need so that I can bury my roots deep and smile brightly at the sun.