Planting Roses for Our Daughters: Creating a Community in Time by Carolyn Lee Boyd


carolynlboydOutside my childhood home grows a yellow rose bush descended from one planted by my great-grandmother, Jennie, a century ago.  That bush has given her descendants many gifts of spirit over the years— her love of beauty despite a life of tragedy and constant toil, her deep connection to nature persisting through four generations, her hope for the future inherent in planting anything that will take years to fully develop. When I contemplate my own fall garden and its plants sowing seeds for next year, I ponder the special responsibility we, as spiritual feminists, have for leaving to those who will come after us a legacy of inner resources that they will need to meet the challenges of the planet they will inherit and hopefully make into their own sustainable world of equality, peace and happiness.

In my mind I sit with a circle of spiritual feminists of the future. Around me might be a hairdresser or a President, a doctor, barista, poet, scientist, salesclerk, priestess, or elder.  They could be old or young or in-between, from anywhere on Earth, of any spiritual tradition or practice.  For one moment of time, I can speak directly to them of what I have distilled from my life that I would like them to know. I say to them:

Blooms from Jennie’s rosebush

Blooms from Jennie’s rosebush

You are not alone in your struggles to remake the world. You are part of a great and growing family of people from many times and places — from priestesses at ancient and modern goddess temples, to foremothers whose souls were at peace, or on fire, even as everything around them denied the value of women’s spirits, to those grandmothers still beside you — who have all found sacredness within themselves, in nature, and in life and sought to make with that revelation positive change. The world needs your fresh eyes to see what must be done in your own time, but always know you may draw on all our life experiences and wisdom and feel our loving arms of support around you.

At times, when you have worked for decades with little visible change, you may think all is hopeless. But when you look from the perspective of many generations, you will see a slow, but inevitable progress that moves always, with some stops and temporary turn-arounds, towards wholeness, freedom, and truth. Some of your goals for the world dearest to your heart will not come to be in your lifetime, but they may in someone else’s, and you will have helped make them possible.

Jennie, maker of quilts and dresses and gardener of roses

Jennie, maker of quilts and dresses and gardener of roses

The Earth, in its natural state, is a beautiful, abundant planet and human beings have the capacity for immense love, compassion, curiosity, courage, and brilliance. Your birth is a gift to you and all who dwell on the Earth. Of course both natural and human-made tragedy exists, but we are reminded of those often and of life’s joys rarely. When what you see around you makes you despair, remember the joys and be renewed.

But the circle in my vision does not exist in space and time, so how will I, how will we, convey these legacies?

By how we live our lives.  When my mother set her spirit free among the clouds by learning to fly planes in her 40s she taught me that women have always found ways to immerse themselves in divinity wherever they find it.  My great-grandmother encouraged her daughter, my grandmother — and her great-granddaughters — to see worlds beyond her own by sewing hundreds of dresses and quilts for neighbors to pay to send my grandmother to college in the 1920s when few women pursued  higher education. Each morning when we wake up, we are responsible for the stories our actions that day will tell.

By the visions we express.  Why did Susan B. Anthony’s speech “Failure Is Impossible,” declaring that women’s suffrage would prevail, help make that come about decades later? Because she looked beyond the obstacles of her own time to see that women’s rights were moving forward and gave hope to future generations to keep striving no matter what the odds. In the midst of daily struggle, it can be easy to miss seeing incremental movement towards a grand goal, but as we get older, our long memories give us the means to dream big and the obligation to convey what we see.

By the art we create. When, as a young woman, I discovered a photo of Isadora Duncan dancing, in love with herself and her body, at one with her spirit, and a flower painting by Georgia O’Keefe, I witnessed divinity expressed in the beauty of the female body and physical manifestations of nature. When we write, paint, dance, act, play or compose in a way that reflects the shining that we see with our inner eyes, we affirm to all those who experience our creation the wonder of the world and that it is worth living in and striving to improve.

Like my great-grandmother, we are the gardeners of gardens we will never see, but of which we are an inextricable and essential part. We tend the soil that it may be fertile, plant seeds that we hope will become towering trees, create beauty for solace and renewal. In the center, the rose bush weaves its stems and blooms around us, uniting us into an unbroken line of generations through time. We each have our own messages and means, and what you say and how you say it will no doubt be different from mine. May we all be the rose’s blooms, roots and stems for each other and for all those descendants of many families, times, and places who come after us.

 

Carolyn Lee Boyd is a human services administrator, herb gardener, and writer whose work focuses on the sacred in the everyday lives of women. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews and more have been published in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work at her blog, www.goddessinateapot.com.

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Categories: Earth-based spirituality, Feminism and Religion, General, Priestessing, Spirituality

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17 replies

  1. I am jealous that I do not have my grandmother’s rose bush, but I should not be, because as I write I am remember that I have so many things that were hers, that constantly remind me of her intrepid spirit. When my grandmother bought a bright yellow Plymouth Fury with really big fins in the 1960s when she was in her sixties, my father considered it inappropriate for a woman her age. When she broke her hip a few years later, the doctor said she would never walk again, but she did, and within a few weeks of beginning rehabilitation. Thanks for reminding us that we don’t have to give in to anything that holds us back. And for reminding us that we can look to the ancestors for strength — we don’t always have to conjure it up out of nothing!

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  2. I love this! I reblogged the prayer on choosethebetterstory.wordpress.com. In our family, it’s irises. Thank you!

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  3. Beautiful essay, Carolyn. Am reminded of the saying made popular by Martin Luther King, Jr.–“the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” You’ve shown us ways we can make that happen.

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  4. So beautiful! Thank you!

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  5. I am fortunate to be surrounded by so many wonderful, creative, (w)holy women. Thank you for reminding me of them, Carolyn.

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  6. Gorgeous! Thank you so much for this Carolyn. I don’t have heirloom roses, but I have pieces of lace and embroidery from my foremothers, along with recipes–and they are indeed great gifts of spirit I hope to pass along–not to biological descendants, but to students, friends, whoever crosses my path.

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    • Lace, embroidery, and recipes are all wonderful gifts – little bits of their creativity and everyday lives that you can enjoy in your own. I agree – it’s so important that we think of everyone in generations to come as our descendants and share what we have with them.

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  7. Beautiful, Carolyn. I need reminders like yours to live my life with greater hope and joy. Our minds are constructed to notice danger first, and our culture plays on those fears in unhealthy ways. Especially as feminists, we need to reach for the positive, not just react to the negative.

    Your post reminds me of teaching Women and the Arts at the UW-Madison many years ago. During one open-ended discussion, one of my students said that learning about prior women artists allowed her to feel like she wasn’t creating the wheel (all over again). She had foremothers. This was one of the big understandings of the second wave of feminism. The first wave hadn’t institutionalized itself, so much of its wisdom got lost. The second wave created Women’s Studies, Rape Crisis Centers, shelters for battered women, the Women’s Political Caucus, NOW, etc.and now the Red Tent movement, FAR, and feminist religious studies and all of these still exist to pass on our legacy to the next generation of women. YAY!

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    • I hadn’t thought about how our brains are structured to notice danger – a survival mechanism I would think – but you are right. Interestingly, older people are one of the happiest populations even with all the challenges of later life and the reason seems to be that they have learned to put a positive spin on what happens in their lives. I don’t think it’s because they don’t see what is happening in the world, but rather they are able to keep the longer perspective. I remember when I was working with elders in NYC in the 1980s and an older woman who was volunteering to nurture babies born with HIV in the hospital said “We got through World War II, we got through the Depression, and we’ll get through this.” Without that perspective I wonder if she would have been able to do the emotionally wrenching work she was doing.

      You’re also about all the institutionalized things feminists of the past few decades have created to leave as a legacy. When you put them all together, it’s an impressive list! And now it’s up to us to build on all those and progress even farther!

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  8. I loved this essay – thank you so much for the reminder that the sacred is part of everyday life…and that we are all connected to those that came before. I think of my grandmother who sewed most of my clothes and made my grandfather’s suits…my mother who was a painter who introduced me to nature who has blessed me with a lifetime of learning, companionship and deep pleasure…we do stand upon those women who came before us…and we thank them by speaking and writing about how they helped us.

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