for Magpie Tales Mag#28
I apologize ahead of time for the length of this piece. It is an exerpt from a much longer autobiographical prose writing, and the beginnings of building my Personal Mythology. It stubbornly stayed in my head when I saw the image for the mag this week.
A Bath and A Yakky Red Tulip
One evening, after a particularly busy day, I had decided to allow myself a long quiet soak in the tub. As I gratefully slipped into the water, I saw an image in my head. In the image, I was rushing through the wooden gate of what I had now defined as my Secret Garden, rushing toward what was a well laid out flower garden. When did that happen?
Arriving at the center of the small garden I reached down and was grabbing the flowers, stuffing them in my mouth, roots and all, devouring them. Ugh. Needless to say, my long quiet soak was definitely interrupted. I had no idea what all of that was about. Or did I?
Along with my insatiable hunger to understand, I had been reading different books about dreams and dream work. I’d always had very colorful and active dreams and could remember them quite clearly when I awakened. I wanted to know what they were all about. Especially some of the more frightening and re-occurring nightmares that had been with me since childhood.
Most of the books, especially those about doing actual dream work, always included instructions for writing down the dreams so that one could explore them in detail when conscious. I had tried that many times. I was a borderline insomniac. If I woke myself up to write down the dream, I was awake for the duration of the night. I did manage to actually write something down on a few occasions, but couldn’t decipher any of it the next morning, nor even recall the dream material.
When I finally woke one morning to find blue ink lines scrawled on my sheets, I decided I was better off just trusting my memory. Or even better, somehow learning how to dream when I was awake and able to deal with all of it consciously. There was no one around to tell me, or point out to me, how illogical that idea might be.
While I sat, quietly thinking about the image of me rushing into that beautiful little garden, I remembered something else from all of those dream work books. Several of them suggested getting quiet, closing your eyes, and trying to place yourself back inside the dream, the better to recall the images and actions that had occurred.
I had tried that a few times, and gotten very good results. I figured this image, or whatever it was, must come from the same place as dreams do, so I closed my eyes and saw myself inside that image. This time I just sat down, rather than eating and swallowing the flowers. They hadn’t tasted particularly good and had aroused my gag reflex. While sitting there, I heard a voice,
“Ahh, that’s so much better, you know? If you truly want to learn from our peace-filled existence, it might be better to just relax and rest here amongst us. Devouring us will not give you what you want, and besides, it‘ll destroy whatever peace you, and we, might find here. ”
Startled, I immediately opened my eyes to make sure that I was still alone in the bathroom, still sitting in that warm, but now cooling water. No one was there, just me, bubbles, and the water. The voice had come from inside my head. Oh, shit!
In the books I had read, it was sometimes suggested that one might ask questions of the dream material as it clarified itself. Even though it had given me some results, I was always the initiator. I hadn’t gone inside this image to initiate a conversation, nor had I, by any stretch of the imagination, expected one to be initiated and aimed directly at me.
I was out of the bathtub, having pulled the plug, hurriedly drying myself off, rushing because I was now being chased by all those niggling doubts about my long ago ’miraculous’ recovery that had been niggling away at my self-esteem and confidence all of the long years between then and now.
Maybe I’d finally stepped over the line, gone around the bend, some sort of retroactive consequence of that steel pin inside my skull. Damn, I really might be crazy, just like my husband was want to suggest periodically. But, as I reached to unlock the bathroom door, the voice came again. She wasn’t done with me yet.
The voice was soft, almost musical and carried a bit of a knowing smile in its far reaches, “No,” she said, “This isn’t craziness, at all. It is simply the logical conclusion of your own studies and explorations. You have been wanting to know, to understand, forever. Why not go directly to the source? Your husband is simply playing on the fears you, yourself, have revealed to him. He isn’t always a very nice man, you know? In fact, I think he might just be a bit afraid of you.” She actually laughed a bit, when she said that. It was a deep sort of chortle and somehow vaguely familiar.
I was back inside the image again, deliberately so, looking around me to see where the voice might be coming from, but also speaking fast, “Well, you’re wrong on that one, I’m the chickenshit here, everyone knows that. I startle so easily, it’s a joke and people play with it, just to see me jump and yelp.”
The voice had come from behind me while I was sitting there with the flowers, but when I whirled around, all I saw was a large, bright, blood red tulip, growing alongside a huge tree with numerous branches reaching far up into a blue sky. The tree was obviously there to provide a bit of shade, but also to filter the sunlight that dappled and moved with every breath of wind that passed. Now, that tulip seemed to catch a breeze and nod at me,
“If you are told, often enough, that you are something, eventually you begin to believe it. You believe that you are a fraidy cat, shivering under layers of fears that seem to go on forever. But, I’d like to point something out to you. Would such an individual go in search of material, deliberately put it in her own path? Especially, material that might simply garner even more fear? You are mostly afraid of how damaged your own mind might be, yet you repeatedly place yourself in a position to discover that reality. What’s more, you’ve never really found anything all that frightening in all of these years you’ve been doing it. Instead, you’ve learned a great deal about yourself, as well as others. That takes guts and a lot of risk-taking, if you ask me.”
Well, I hadn’t really asked, now had I? Although I had clearly heard what she’d said, I was still scared and stunned. I left the bathroom, and pretty much determined that maybe I shouldn’t ‘play’ with things I didn’t really understand. So, for the next few days, I stayed away from my Secret Garden, keeping myself busy with the endless chores any household requires. But, then I began to resent my self-imposed exile from what had been giving me, at least some measure, the peace and quiet I felt in need of. Eventually, I tried to sneak back there.
To my utter surprise, that neatly formed small patch of garden had now become a permanent fixture within the landscape, and was situated directly in the center of my normal path, yakky red tulip and all. I couldn’t avoid it, couldn’t see beyond the tree and all it’s branches. Watched my shoulders slump in resignation, then watched myself sit down, cross my legs, and tell myself, that if this was the only way to get to where I wanted to go, I’d do it. It didn’t have to mean anything, just another stupid loop, I had created for myself. And I resented the fact that I now, it would seem, had to do this sitting stuff (too much like formal meditation), with these nodding pretty flowers, before I could get to my boulder.
But, then I suddenly remembered reading in some, now unknown, probably Joseph Campbell volume, that every threshold experience also has two distinct elements. One is a Herald, that announces the upcoming journey, and the other is a Guardian to that threshold. And sometimes, on rare occasions, these two can be combined in one distinct individual. I turned my head, looking over my shoulder, and yes, she was still there, bright as ever and nodding in the breeze. Double “Oh, shit!” I get a yakky red tulip for a messenger and a tester? I mean, couldn’t I have at least gotten a ravishingly fragile, but beautiful rose, or something?
She went on, ignoring my obvious show of discontent, “First things first, we share a great deal in common, but here, inside this place, you need to ask for the rightful names of things you encounter. Names are important and you already know that, but here, in this place, they are doubly so.”
I could feel, almost see bright inquisitive eyes, boring into my deliberately turned away back. Releasing a deep sigh, I mumbled, “Okay, what is your name?”
“Thank you for asking. My name is Elizabeth,” she said with some amount of relish, and barely withheld laughter.
No! That couldn’t be right. My name? She shared my name? The one I had worked so hard to recover, the one that was just this side of sacred to me? No.
Although I had been baptized Elizabeth, it was never intended that I should go by that far more formal definition. I was called Betty, after my Mother’s youngest sister, who had lived with us before getting married. As a youngster, and a decided tom-boy, I’d been happy to embrace the far more likable, and common, Betty. Had dreaded the first day of every school year, when the new teacher (nun) would do the roll-call and call out “Elizabeth —-?” Would clearly respond that I was called Betty, but then have to deal with other children calling me Lizzie, Lizard, and several other epitaphs for the first week of school, till everything settled and I could be Betty again.
I had gotten interested in names when I had read about how, in the ancient world, giving another individual ones name, actually meant entering into an obligatory relationship with that person. Knowing the name, meant one could ask, and expect to receive, whatever was being requested. Knowing God’s name, was one of the reasons that the Hebrew people saw themselves as chosen and believed that their entreaties would be answered. It also meant that one never spoke that name casually or lightly. After all, God could make similar requests and expect those demands to be fulfilled.
I had gotten a big shock when I explored the meaning of my name/s. It is widely believed that Betty is a derivative of Elizabeth. I discovered that it is not. In fact, Betty has no literal meaning at all. Nothing, zilch. While Elizabeth means, God is my oath, a name that one could grow into forever and perhaps never find the end of possibilities or potential.
At the time, I was a member of a group that only used first names. There were, coincidently?, three other Betty’s within the group and it was definitely getting confusing. I held my breath and told the group they could call me Elizabeth. I wanted to try it on, and the sheltered reality of the group allowed me to do that. I liked it and the solid feeling it gave me and eventually, began introducing myself in that manner.
But, now I had to face off with a real dilemma. I knew that the possession of my name was an important meaning in all of these images occurring in my imagination. I was unhappy that the yakky red tulip should bear my name, but also understood that this was not an accident and held much deeper meaning. Somehow, she was a part of me, some very real aspect of my person. As I watched her do her meet and greet just inside that old wooden gate, and coupled that with the fact that she might be the Guardian of that gate, I knew that she was my public persona. My already slumped shoulders, dipped even further. Oh My!
Afterward, for several days, I held my tongue while doing a slow burn on the inside. I really didn’t like her. I liked that musical sound of her voice, but the control factor grated on my nerves as she made sure that everything was in its proper place at all times. And I certainly didn’t like that know it all tone of voice she sometimes slipped into. But, I held to my silence, waiting to see how all of this would unravel. I had promised myself that I would do whatever was necessary to get to the boulder and find that element of peace I so sorely needed. She didn’t make it easy.
Then one day, as I sat amidst those pretty flowers, she spoke softly and said, “I think it’s time that we discuss how much you do not like me.”
Even though this was happening inside of my own imagination, I reacted immediately, the words of denial rushing to my lips. She stopped me cold, “I only want to explain to you the difference between a tulip and a rose.” Oh shit, she knew about that one.
She went on, in that soft musical voice to tell me how roses are seldom singular, unless deliberately bred to be so. That most often they were the fruits of a bush and grew in groups, and couldn’t last long outside of that reality. That they were very fragile entities that needed constant care and nurture, and even given that, they often wilted and died quickly because of that fragile and delicate nature. They needed an ever extending support system. Intricate and sometimes rare, and perhaps that was why they were held in high esteem and given so much honor, because they spoke more to the honor of their care-givers than to their own individual existence.
Tulips, on the other hand, she said, were sturdy individuals, coming up year after year, whether cultivated or not. They were firmly rooted and heralded Spring, that time of new beginnings and renewal. They were definitely singular and held their own individual beauty while doing whatever work they were intended to perform. And last, but far from least, was the fact that all tulips, no matter their first color upon their original appearance, left to grow on their own, all reverted back to their original color of red. The color of passion, even rage, but also the color of Creative Fire.
She was silent for a long time after her wonderful, but very concise little lesson. She had put me in my proper place, without demeaning me, although I was deeply embarrassed by my own thoughtlessness. I finally broke the silence, and with sincere honesty and a newly awakened affection, I said,
“Thank you, and I am very sorry for not having seen that on my own. You have definitely earned your name, and I am proud to be known by the same.”