A few days ago I was reading to my son and discovered a phrase to build a blog post around. (Inspiration is everywhere!) He’s discovered a love of Magic Tree House books, by Mary Pope Osborne. If you don’t know them, you should check them out. Here’s the low down to get you hooked. Jack and Annie (I know, it IS cool that her name is the same as mine!) are two kids who live in Pennsylvania. Down the road from their house is a woods where a tree house magically appears from time to time. They can use the tree house to travel to different places in the world and various times in history. They have adventures and learn something new in each book. I’m so glad our youngest is enjoying them, because I really do too!
So, anyway, a few days ago we were finishing Dragon of the Red Dawn. The kids had traveled to Edo, Japan – which happens to be what Tokyo, Japan was called almost 150 years ago. Edo was tormented by fires from time to time, and when they hit they often destroyed a great deal of the city as buildings were made of wood. Jack and Annie met a man named Basho, whose house burnt down. While the smoke was still rising from the ashes, the three of them sat outside in the rain. At first they were all quiet, absorbing everything. Then Annie pointed out that she liked the sound of the rain on the banana tree’s leaves. Jack mentioned that he enjoyed the sound of the river, fuller now that the rains had come.
“Basho smiled. ‘I suppose that is why the ancients called our fires the flowers of Edo,’ he said. ‘After something is destroyed by fire, a good new thing often takes its place.’”
I teared up when I read it. I’m tearing up now as I type it.
What if something is destroyed by divorce, domestic violence, bullying, rape, child abuse, drugs, or any other thing that can ravage our lives the way the flames attacked Edo? What if the smudges of soot and ash were, instead, glaring bruises on our bodies or invisible wounds on our hearts? What blooms then?
Yup – that’s where my brain took me while reading a kids’ book to a seven-year-old.
But let’s think about it for a minute. You all know that I had my own fire to deal with. (If you don’t, you can read my story or it might suffice to know that I was raped at thirteen years old and I’m more than two decades past that now.) Speaking to my experience, I do think that something good came after that for me. I feel that Mary Pope Osborne chose her words carefully here and I want to highlight that. She said ‘after,’ not ‘from’ or ‘because of.’
I would never say I’m thankful for having gone through what I did, but I can say that, after many years and much therapy, I was able to learn to love myself, which is a gift not only to me but to all those who care for me. I’m able to share my story, which might bring a little water or sunshine to someone else’s garden – knowing you’re not alone, knowing someone has stood where you are and survived and loves completely now, knowing you’re not to blame. These flowers of mine, that came after my rape, they are my joy, my kindness, and my generosity. They are definitely good.
There are so many other struggles – those I named and many I didn’t – that might proceed a rebirth. Obviously each story is going to have it’s own narrative. Sometimes the soil will be depleted of nutrients and need care. Other times a drought will make it hard for blooms to find water. But here’s what I believe:
Roots will grow deeper to find water.
Scorched earth will become fertile again.
Branches will bend and petals will turn toward the sun.
Again and again. It. Will. Happen.
After the bad, the struggles, the pain – maybe days, maybe years after – a blossom will peak through. They’re often small and vulnerable buds. You might not even notice them, but someone will. Listen to the innocent observations of others – like those of Jack and Annie – and maybe they’ll help you find the “good new thing,” because you, like me and like Edo, have flowers that grow after fire burns.
Yeah, I took a lot from this fictional story. It’s what I do. But it’s also a great thing that Mary Pope Osborne does – weaving real history and facts into fascinating stories that entertain. Basho was a real man, a poet. In the book there are a few poems and I’m not sure if they’re his or Osborne’s, but I went and read some of his work on the interwebs. I found one to leave you with…
It is with awe
That I beheld
Fresh leaves, green leaves,
Bright in the sun.