Life for me has always felt complicated. It’s not just my byzantine history or the complexity of various current situations. I work daily with people whose lives have been upended with the complex challenges of trauma and addiction. Their path to untangle that knot is as thorny as the road that led to the crisis. Although walking with them a short part of the way is an honor and joy, it’s also taxing in what it extracts from my heart.
I’ve long been drawn, then, to simple things that rest my mind and spirit. I love plain black coffee (no fancy schmancy concoctions with weird names for the size), quiet walks, a wood-burning fire, soft instrumental jazz, familiar wine, and stars or moving clouds at night. While there’s a place for the energizing, awe-inspiring peaks of the mountains of the West, I favor the softer, rolling vistas of the Great Smokies to move and settle me. I like good detective novels or TV shows that keep me guessing without giving me nightmares.
Among the intricate, often painful, puzzle pieces of my childhood story are sprinkled many sweetly simple memories. I can feel the horse’s soft muzzle against my hand or cheek, and the freedom of the wind in my face as my best friend and I rode our bikes miles out into the countryside. I flinch at the thought of the cold water of the Piney River on a hot day, an initial shock with a refreshing finish. I smell the hay in the barn and feel the bumpy slide down the slippery mud channel in the bank after a good rain. Just simple, mundane memory squares that form the backing for life’s complicated quilt.
Each year around this time I’m graced with reliving one of the purest memories from childhood: a perfect form of unfussy beauty blooming with the sweetest smell on earth. It’s the simple daffodil, the pure yellow kind that we always called buttercups or jonquils (and a Google check identifies as trumpet daffodils). Just outside my childhood bedroom window – beyond the majestic tire swing tethered in the ginormous oak tree and the rickety picnic table we used as a takeoff platform above a worn-bare patch of ground – a sloping hillside erupted with a field of buttercups in early spring. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them masked the still brown grass and lifted warm, smiling faces into the sun. There were so many clumps grown together they made a buttercup carpet, and I wasn’t afraid to lie in it and crush the flowers, because there were so many more left standing you didn’t notice those that were bowed down.
I picked them by the dozens and filled vases to situate in my favorite places: my bedroom dresser, the top of the piano, the end table beside the worn couch where I read, the horse’s stall (unimpressed, she nibbled at them) and the tack room next door, the kitchen table, my father’s study, and the desks of my favorite teachers.
The lowly buttercup was the quintessential harbinger of spring. The resplendent swath bloomed early before the ground was barely thawed and apt to freeze again. The array was short-lived, as soon rain or sleet would beat the blossoms into the dirt. The pungent flowers were just a tease of the warmth and display to come in later weeks, so it wasn’t sad to see them go. Something about their simple existence, their promise of return year after year, and their fresh breath of coming warmth left hope still blooming.
Recently, after an unusually meaningful time of spiritual direction, I stopped in search of buttercups for sale, which I had seen budding in recent days. (I find it hard to resist sneaking into strangers’ yards to pick their stash, so I decided to be responsible and buy some. Sadly, we can’t get them to grow in our yard because persistent squirrels or voles get past every barrier we’ve used to protect the bulbs.) It took two stops, but I arrived home proudly clutching a beautiful potted group of perfect daffodils, which still sits on our kitchen table. To me, these simple flowers are better than any roses or luxe arrangement – my all-time favorite bouquet. I smile and breathe them in every time I pass by.
A few days later, I walked one of my favorite routes which circles a small park near a library not far from my house and the now-bare hillside of my childhood home, the one with the blanket of daffodils every spring. When I got to the far side of the paved path, I laughed out loud with delight, for planted on a wide slope between the park and the library below it, a huge expanse of buttercups bloomed in the late afternoon sun. I had forgotten they were there last spring and also the one before it (thanks to my complicated life that doesn’t hold such unimportant details in memory), so the sight felt completely fresh and unexpected.
Their fragrant scent wafted through the air and clung to my clothes like perfume. How sweet of the Divine to dazzle with such an extravagant show!
Life’s complexity has taught me the gift of enjoying the daffodils and similar simple pleasures. If you happen to live in Middle Tennessee and have any daffodils (or buttercups or jonquils or whatever you want to call them) to spare, feel free to bring them by Bethesda Workshops. Nearly 80 hurting, complicated souls will step into this place of healing over the next few weeks, and I imagine they, too, could use their simple beauty.
Marnie C. Ferree