In the garden of She Who Creates, tucked into a very remote corner, grows a small, water-blue planet whose inhabitants call it “Earth.” The soil is rich but most of what grows there appears on the surface to be only straggly stems fighting each other for a place near the dim light. But yet, somehow the most spectacular blooms emerge from the planet by the billions every day.
She Who Creates has planted Earth’s patch of the garden so that the breeze will catch its blossoms and carry them to the farthest reaches of all that is. “Like seeds on the wind,” she whispers as a cloud of them rises from the Earth to make their way across the cosmos.
Everyone elsewhere in the universe waits anxiously for Earth’s exquisite blossoms to drift for eons to come to their planet. When each one lands, it is enshrined and lovingly cared for, each drop of sap savored, every molecule doled out so that it will do the most good.
While the baby was being born in the great field, the mountains enclosing on three sides like an embrace, the sun’s light was a more luminous amber and the petals of the flowers shone a deeper crimson than they had just moments before. The very soil on which Irini squatted vibrated as if the Earth herself were shaking with jubilation. She gasped with the last push, then sank to the ground and smiled in this one moment of contentment and peace. Her midwife, Melanie, finally cut the cord, then handed the new daughter to her mother.
“The soldiers will be here soon,” Irini said once she had recovered. “I know where we can hide till they have passed by on the way to the city. No one will bother looking for us. We aren’t military. We’ll just disappear.” Melanie, Irini, and the baby climbed back into their jeep and drove off the road and across the field towards one of the mountains, their tracks covered by the field’s wild Medusa-like brambles.They finally arrived at the cave’s opening at twilight. Melanie brought Irini and baby inside in a wheelchair, hid the jeep in a nearby ravine, and carried in the food and water they had hurriedly tossed in the back as they made their escape from a refugee camp when the first grenades fell.
Irini directed Melanie through the cave’s labyrinth of rooms until they came to one with a stream and small openings that let in just enough sun for them to see. Once they were settled they had nothing to do but wait, and so spent their hours talking. “I grew up playing in this cave with the other kids from my village just down the road,” Irini said. “I found this room when I was about thirteen and made it my secret sanctuary from the world.”
Irini pointed to a large, flat stone with shadowy objects against a wall. “That was my little altar like one dedicated to Mary in our church,” Irini said. In the center of the stone was a doll decorated with beads, ribbons and a crown made of aluminum foil. Around her were small offerings of toys, sparkling rocks, and twigs that had once held flowers. “You can clear it off if you need to.”
“No, I like it,” Melanie said. “There’s plenty of room on the floor to store what we need. Will you go home once this is all over?”
“I have no home to go to,” Irini replied. “A year ago I lost everything. One afternoon I had a sudden desire for an orange, which had just come into season. I walked to the marketplace, bought my orange and ate it just as the bombs began to fall. It was a surprise. We knew the war was nearby, but we never thought it would reach us. Our city had nothing either side could want. By the time I got home to my apartment, the whole building was rubble. I had nothing but the clothes on my back and a little money in my pocket. I guess I was in shock. I walked until I came to the ruins of an ancient temple in the old part of the city. All that was left were three walls and the statue of the old goddess, thousands of years old.
“I looked up at her and realized that we weren’t so different. She had lost everything, too. No one worshipped her anymore and once the fighting came to this part of town she would most likely be destroyed, just like everything in my life had been. But, for right now we, the descendants of the people she had nurtured and given life to, were still alive. We had forgotten her but she still gave the grain, the fruits, and the beasts that kept us alive. I realized that what I had was what she had given me — my mind, my spirit, and my body that can give life. So, I decided to become a mother, and within a week or so I was pregnant. It all happened fast, for sure. I found out at the camp clinic, and from that moment I stayed there. Later the doctor told me that she didn’t know how that happened, that I shouldn’t be able to conceive, but I did, and here I am. And here you are.”
Irini was silent, indicating that it was Melanie’s turn to tell her story. “I’m ashamed to say that I came looking for something that was in my own mind, adventure maybe, or the feeling of being part of something more important than my everyday life. When I signed up to spend a summer here after medical school, I knew you didn’t have fancy facilities, but, in all honesty, the war wasn’t supposed to cross the border and come into your country. I thought I’d spend a couple of months kind of camping out, then go home with stories to tell. Still, as I think about it, I guess I’m just doing what women in my family have always done. My mom went to the big city to be a poet out of college. My grandmother joined the navy as a nurse when she was 20. My great-grandmother went to the wilderness when she was 18 to teach children to read in a one-room schoolhouse. I guess we all wanted to wander the world before we settled down into what we thought was real life. I just never expected bombs to be falling on me.”
“Maybe you should have read the travel brochures more closely,” Irini said.
“Maybe you should have gotten yourself born thousands of years ago,” Melanie replied, and they both smiled.
At first, the women hid during the day and ventured out for food and water at night. Soon they could no longer hear the sounds of battle as the war moved on leaving them uncertain what they would find if they left. So, they foraged for berries, nuts, and greens, eventually finding some fish in a nearby stream that they caught with a homemade net. The baby needed only her mother’s milk. No one in the outside world seemed to remember the cave or them.
Beyond the symphony of sounds that is night on the mountain, they sometimes heard a voice speaking as the wind blew through the openings in the cave. Without words, it left behind knowings to eat this or that plant for medicine, or to head deep into the cave because a storm was coming. Sometimes the voice would tell them poems that were half sounds and half shadows that would appear on the walls as the sun passed overhead.
Eventually, they left behind humanmade time except for the changing of the seasons and the growth of Irini’s daughter. They slept when they were tired, ate when they were hungry, worked when they need to replenish their stores. They eventually named the baby Bella, for she was indeed the most beautiful creature they had ever seen.
One morning they once again heard gunfire in the distance. The war had turned around and come back to their mountain. They knew that their sojourn in the cave was over and that they needed to make their way back to the worlds they had left behind to try to find more permanent safety.
Just before they entered the nearest town, Irini stopped. “Take her, please,” she said, handing over to Melanie the sleeping Bella as her tears fell on the baby’s face. “This is no place to bring up a child. Take her home with you. Bring her up someplace safe. Say that you found her in the rubble somewhere and you want to adopt her because she has no mother. I will work here in this country, my home, so that someday she can come back and live in peace, with or without me.”
“What will you do?”
“I won’t make war, but I’ll speak out, I’ll organize, as long as I’m alive.”
And so, Melanie brought the baby back to her country’s embassy and told her made-up story. No one remembered that Irini had ever lived or had been pregnant. With no one else to care for Bella, the country of her birth cared not at all what happened to her and so she went home with Melanie.
Once Bella was safely Melanie’s legal child, Melanie made a recording of her laughing and posted it on youtube, hoping maybe someday Irini would see and hear it. She had no idea that millions of lightyears away, far in the future, beings she could not even imagine also watched and heard the clip and smiled.
Fifteen years passed before a fragile security came to Irini’s small nation. Melanie and Bella never knew if Irini had survived the war. She brought Bella home for a visit, as she had promised Irini she would do. On their last day, Melanie and Bella visited the cave and found the altar with the small goddess still on it.
“Would you like to bring it home with you? It could be your memento of your mother,” Anna asked.
“No, I think I’ll just leave it here,” Bella replied. “This is where it belongs. Maybe, sometimes, if she’s alive, my mother comes here and she would miss it if it were gone.” Bella did leave a note for her mother that was gone when they returned for another visit the next year.
Sometimes Earth’s blossoms are creations — a painting or song, a thought or idea, even a video of a baby laughing. Sometimes they are gifts humans give to themselves or one another bought with heartache and pain. They may be acts of courage that no one knows about or they may be memories passed down through generations as inspiration. The people of Earth each make the blossoms a hundred times a day without realizing their uniqueness, beauty, and infinite value across the universe, just as rosebushes endlessly create roses that are transported over oceans to grace palaces and museums.
When She Who Creates crafts the humans, She reaches into her own being and molds them from an infinitesimal piece of herself. Only She and the humans know all that the people of Earth sacrifice, more than beings on other planets will ever be able to fathom, to make the blossoms, but it is the people’s nature and they can do nothing else. The stuff of the blossoms is what humans are made of. The blossoms go by many names on Earth, but the universe calls them “freedom.”