When I was 14, I was uprooted from the life I had been living and transplanted into a small hometown in the middle of the heartland that was not yet my hometown. The history was palpable–Building facades from the 1800’s, brick streets from the 1940’s. Rusted street signs and tin advertisements still holding on from the 60’s. Antique shops at every corner that sold 1920’s photographs next to retro skates from the ’70’s.
That year the summer was early and hot and only now looking back do I understand how magical it was.
I was a weird kid with no friends in a new place and needed something to do. I answered an ad in the newspaper for volunteers to work at a museum. Thus I found myself tossed into the fantastic albeit at times bizarre (in a charming sort of way) world of historical reenacting.
Because who doesn’t want to spent every 112 degree day in July dressed in seven layers of semi-authentic late 19th century clothing?
Regardless, the people I met that summer would leave a stamp on my heart for the rest of my life. We each had as much reason to be with each other that summer as squares on a patchwork quilt. But in rag-tag form, there we were, together, carried away by our personas where the intertwining of history and fantasy let us be who we wanted. The experiences I had that summer still influence my writing today.
One day some of us took a walk down an abandoned trail to a ravine on the museum property. We weren’t supposed to do that but what was the fun of role playing outlaw rapscallions and soiled doves if we couldn’t break a few real rules?
Deep in the thicket of lush green overgrowth and midnight rich soil, we happened upon a treasure trove of Black-Eyed-Susan’s. I don’t remember who picked a small bouquet of them and I also don’t remember how we got back out of the ravine alive (I reiterate, we probably shouldn’t have been back there). But later that afternoon the yellow flowers were laying on the saloon table that had become our center hub for meeting up throughout the day.
I sat down to take a break and one of the other reenactors sauntered in. He took one of the flowers off the table and turned to me. He tucked the flower behind my ear and moved one of my curls to frame my face. He then took some of the other flowers to give to the other ladies.
My temple tingled where his fingers had brushed my skin and though it was hot the flower petals felt cool against my face.
That moment is the first time in my life I remember feeling beautiful.
Whenever I see a Black-Eyed-Susan, I remember that feeling and that summer and those people. I never pick these flowers when I find them. I cherish the feeling and give gratitude for the memories that are brought back to me for a few moments.
As much as I love these flowers, I don’t keep pictures of them in my house or use them in bouquets. I’m not going to get one tattooed on me. I let them find me and surprise me with everything stored inside that those bright yellow petals bring back to the surface.
When I see Black-Eyed-Susan’s I never know what I’ll feel or remember. Sometimes it’s the taste of the tea we pretended was whisky. Sometimes it’s the bitter scent of gunpowder or the sweet scent of campfires. Sometimes it’s the gentle brown eyes of horses or glints of smiles I haven’t seen in decades. Sometimes it’s the thickness of grief and incense at more than one funeral I have attended for reenacting friends who have passed. Whatever they are, always with these memories, I get a sense of belonging with my place in history and my place in the present, where I’ve been and where I am going.
Black-Eyed-Susan’s are sacred to me because I let them find me. Roses on the other hand—I bring those to me. I plant them in my garden. I lose my mind every time I find the perfect rose floral print. I use them as symbols in my writing. I can safely assume I won’t make it to my grave without having one tattooed on me.
I make my own happiness by bringing roses into my life however I can. Through action and intention. That’s how we build happy lives. We have to make them happen. Give yourself a rose garden even if it’s a print on a skirt or a print in a frame.
But know that in that action and intention, a sliver of life is sacred, is magic, and cannot be cut or planted or put in a vase or carried on your sleeve. They are in things that can’t be captured. The glints of fireflies or a full sky of scattered stars. The scent of antique books and the taste of the perfect chocolate fudge and the beating of your heart.
It can be scary to not chase this magic. To let go enough to be surprised when those moments come to you on their own. You might worry you’ll forget things you need unless you cling to them, or surround yourself with them. Well, I can tell you now, some things you will forget. But the things you need will always return to you when you spot those sacred surprises. They’ll always find you.
And when they do, smile. Breathe. Remember, then let go. That is the gift you’ve been given.