Stop and Smell the Blue Iris

BRANCHES, August 1998, by Craig Overmyer, D. Min.

Oh, no – I’m going to be late again, I thought, looking at the kitchen clock. Pressured by the demands of a Monday morning, too late to eat a real breakfast, a sharp edge rose in my voice. “Hurry up!” I called out to my four-year-old daughter. “We have to leave. Now!”

Meghan was playing carefree in her room, oblivious to my need to move quickly. I could hear a sweet, innocent melody as she sang a thank-you song to God about birds, flowers, trees and joy.

But I kept yelling at her to hurry. Meghan spent her days with Grandma Doie and Grandpa Pap while Becky and I worked. Doie and Pap’s house was on their horse farm just across the field from our house, but we rushed to the car. I turned on a radio news program, my mind reeling with what-ifs, shoulds and worries about problems out of my control.

Meghan continued to enjoy the morning, making up more verses to thank God for the blue sky, green grass, fence posts or whatever she saw as we sped past the woods down our long lane. I whipped the car into the driveway, jumped out with Meghan’s day bag, and rushed to the farmhouse. I turned to yell “hurry up!” at Meghan, who was dawdling in the yard. What I saw stopped me in my tracks.

Meghan stood with her nose way down deep into an iris that glistened with the morning dew on its soft petals. Taking in a gloriously slow, deep breath, eyes closed, she paused for a moment and then sighed. “Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhh,” she breathed out, relaxing into sheer enjoyment.

My little girl looked intoxicated in the most natural way. She was absorbed in the miracle and mystery of creation told in the story of a freshly bloomed iris – “earth crammed with heaven, every bush aflame,” as one poet put it. As she stood there at the edge of the garden with a gentle smile on her face, I was hit in the head with the proverbial two-by-four. The message was clear. I dropped the day bag and joined my daughter.

Looking at the iris as if for the first time, I noticed light blue petals opened in groups of three. with soft, white, furry stamens in the middle. Closing my eyes, I leaned into the fragrance and breathed in the very breath of life itself. The sweet aroma filled me with a joyful amnesia of my worries. The Divine smell brought me suddenly and decisively into the present.

As I exhaled the same “aaaaaahhhhhhhhhh,” I opened my eyes to a new world. In Meghan’s eyes I saw a reflection of myself; hugging her, I felt the Divine touch of heaven. Over her shoulder I could see the sky was even more blue and the grass more green than I remembered. A crab-apple tree near the garden was vibrating with hundreds of bees drinking the pink blossoms’ nectar – the same tree I had mindlessly walked past moments earlier.

I awakened to the reality of my daughter’s world. For the first time, I recognized that she spends most of her days in the garden, dancing along the brick path past the rhubarb patch and under the old grapevine arbor to the playhouse Pap built for her.

The garden is splashed with a spectrum of colors as columbine, bleeding hearts, crimson glory roses, lilies, daisies, peonies and iris unfold with the seasons. Sweet, enticing lilacs and honey-suckle extend the fragrant experience all the way out to the road, field and barn. Mints, chives, sage rosemary and catnip adorn the vegetable garden filled with mouthwatering squash, tomatoes, beets, lettuce, grapes and berries. Apple trees provide treats for the horses. Meghan’s favorite tree, a mulberry, stands guard near the driveway, where Meghan can be found in summer with purple fingers and lips.

Meghan is 14 now and has her own garden. There, alone with the earth, sky, air, water, and seeds, she continues like generations of women before her. The whole story of life, creation, maintenance, and dissolution patterns are witnessed.

All that we have as sustenance comes from the sacred earth. Even if we tend to just one plant and go for a few brief walks with our shoes off, we will have much more therapy than from years of analysis.

I have transplanted some of Doie’s blue iris; I wait each Spring for them to bloom near the entrance of our home. When the first one opens, I take a long time to reflect on my life. Am I too busy? Am I practicing mindfulness? Am I deeply rooted in stillness? Am I tending to my soul? Then I close my eyes, take a slow, deep breath of that Divine smell, pause, for a moment, and let go of that old “hurry up!” – breathing out…aaaaaahhhhhhhhhh.

O God, you care for the land and water it, and enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its edges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing!
~ from Psalm 65

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