Art by Nanri Tenney
Just at dawn, the lotus pushed its way up through a crack in the concrete lot where an abandoned tenement building had burned to the ground and been forgotten. Nearby, a butterfly hatched in a rusty tin pail. After drying its wings in the smoky city air, it gently landed on the lotus, waiting to be seen.
Eva, her arms full of groceries from the all-night supermarket, was the first to spot the lotus out of the corner of her eye, but she walked on without her mind acknowledging what it knew could not possibly be. Halfway down the block she turned back for reasons she could not name and was soon staring at a bloom that could not exist, yet was the one lotus she had most longed to see since she had immigrated across the ocean as a young woman thirty years ago.
As Eva tenderly touched the velvet of the lotus petal, in her memory she was back in her home village, as a child, with her grandmother in a sacred grove. They stood in front of a gilt and jeweled statue of a woman holding a lotus just like the one she now caressed. Eva sucked the love of the goddess deep into her bones. “She is your Mother,” her grandmother said, and Eva understood that she had two mothers, the woman at home who cared for her and Creator of All standing in stone before her. Afterwards she and her grandmother had taken off their shoes, feeling the Earth beneath their feet, and her grandmother had said “wherever you are, you will always find Her here.” The day before she stepped onto an airplane on her way to her new country, the grove had been razed to make way for an office building. Eva she said to herself “never again.”
The butterfly flew onto Ana’s arm as she hurried past on her way to yet another early morning work meeting. Ana batted at it, but then stopped and gazed — she knew not why – and saw the bright green over a field of fuchsia on its wings and the delicate azure of its body. “I cannot be seeing what is clearly in front of me,” she said to herself. A naturalist by profession, she knew that this butterfly could only survive in a tiny region thousands of miles away. She had fled from that very place some months before, running for her life from her country’s militia and the injustice she had fought so hard for so long.
Maria remembered the last time she had seen a butterfly like this, only a year or so ago, before the final coup. She and some friends had been kayaking and had let themselves be led by a butterfly from a calm and narrow tributary into a much larger, raging river that was its source. Maria had, even then, been considering her escape, and realized that if she could just stay in the kayak, eventually the river would flow into the ocean that would lead to another ocean and touch the shore of every continent in the world. If only she could row forever she could reach any place of sanctuary across the globe.
The two women could not stop themselves from returning to the lot each day. For weeks the lotus was in full bloom and the butterfly always settled on it at the exact moment either of the women arrived. Eva tried to find out who owned the lot to tell them that they must protect this miracle, but no title to the land existed in City Hall records. “It’s up to us, then,” Maria said.
Soon after, Eva constructed a wire cage to cover the lotus and secured it to the cement around its stem. Maria brought a birdhouse in which the butterfly could hide if it were chased and shooed it inside.
The next day the cage was torn apart and the birdhouse ripped to shreds, though the lotus and the butterfly were unharmed, sitting peacefully together. Eva brought lumber and closed off the broken fence across the opening of the lot. Maria painted the word “toxic” on the door to convince intruders it would be better for them to stay away. But by morning the lock was broken and the door ripped off its hinges. Still the lotus bloomed and the butterfly warmed its wings in the sun.
Maria was the first to weep. “Beauty is always destroyed,” she said. “Love is always annihilated,” Eva moaned. They took down the wire cage, the butterfly enclosure, and door to the fence, and left the lotus and the butterfly to their fates. What else could they do? They were defeated. They told each other they would never come back to the lot, that they would walk miles to avoid passing by so that they would never see their beloved lotus and butterfly senselessly destroyed, as they knew they must be.
For a year they stayed away. For four seasons, twelve months, thirteen lunar cycles, three-hundred sixty-five days neither one of them came to witness the inevitable destruction. They never knew that more lotuses bloomed, and butterflies of every kind and color were drawn to them and that a symphony of flowers from all over the world blossomed in the lot. They never felt the shade in the summer from the tree that grew as tall in that year is it would have in a decade elsewhere. They never drank from the spring of cold, pure water that somehow rose up in a corner.
No human created the garden, and yet, while the lot was beautiful, it was haunted by the despair of the women. There was a dolorous air to the place. The lot was in the shadows, even at noon when the sun was directly overhead. The blooms were deep blue or purple and their stems drooped. Whatever had placed the lotus and the butterfly in that place could not emerge from the chrysalis of sadness built around it.
“They are still here,” Eva and Maria said together, as they both arrived when a year to the day had passed, drawn there again by what they could not say. The lotus and butterfly were still in their accustomed places. Their wonder deepened as they wandered through the lot, realizing that it was as impossible for each of the flowers, insects, beasts and trees to be there as it was for the lotus and the butterfly. Each came from some place around the planet far away, from a climate much different from the city where they now lived.
But this year they were not alone. Sitting beside the lotus was a mother holding her child as she slept. On her face was the same beatific smile that Eva treasured from the grove statue. Beside her was an orange juice bottle that she had used to bring water to the lotus every day for months. She had overwatered today and Maria noticed the rivulets running away from the lotus towards her. As her eyes searched for the butterfly, they saw that she had alighted above a graffiti mural of a fantasy forest with one word written above it reading simply “be.” “Be the Mother,” the lot said to Eva. “Be the water,” it told Maria. And they became the Mother in the grove and the Earth beneath their feet and the water that surrounds and connects all the world.
Ana picked up some chalk that had been left by a child who had been playing on the sidewalk and crossed out “toxic” and wrote “Welcome.” She then set up the sign so that it could be seen by anyone wanting to enter. What would happen? Would more people notice the lot and come in to destroy it by picking the flowers to take home? Or perhaps someone would simply rip out the plants for no good reason. Or maybe sometime someone would step into the garden and have their life saved by the joyful exuberance of the fragrance and rainbow hues before going on about their day.
The women crossed the street and watched to see what would happen. Over the next few hours, the lot filled with people. Some brought chairs, others drums and guitars. Some tables appeared and, on them, people laid out food to share from the many countries in which they had been born. People sang and children danced in a circle around the lotus.
For the first time since their arrival in this alien city, Eva and Ana knew that they were home.
Now, you may ask, who planted the lotus? Who hatched the butterfly? Who broke down the cage and birdhouse and then made the garden grow? Who whispered in the ears of the neighbors to come at just the moment the “Welcome” sign was finished?
It was Me, of course. I am the goddess of the land beneath the lot. At one time the people who lived here knew me. They left me touching and devoted offerings of flowers and honeyed food in exactly this place. I cared for them and made sure that they had what they needed to live and they sang me songs, dancing on my belly and bringing me great happiness.
Then the people began to create what they called “borders.” Some borders were walls made of wood or cement while others were just imaginary lines that commanded where people could travel, live, work, and love, keeping some people in and more people out. Worse, the borders separated the people from the spirits of the land who inhabit the mountains, rivers, valleys and every landscape and who know no boundaries and never choose one living being over another to love and protect.
It has been many centuries since anyone said My name, but that matters not. I have lain quietly waiting beneath the concrete and gravel, the bricks and mortar, the refuse and the fences. Finally, I could abide no more and I sent the lotus and the butterfly. I am the goddess of this place, but I am also the goddess of everywhere, for all the places are made One through our beloved planet. I am what binds together Eva and Ana and all those who have wandered the Earth in search of a new home. I could do no other than rip out the borders that have no reality to me. Fences, walls, cages, lines on maps — none of these really exist on the Earth I have created. I will no longer allow them in this lot. I gathered beings from all over the Earth and brought them here. They will flourish and they will be a sign to all who venture in that they belong to not just where they were born, or where they now live, but everywhere. Just as Eva and Maria wondered what would happen when they wrote the word “Welcome,” I now will be anxious to see what all living beings do with this new worldview. I have faith in My Creation.
Nanri Tenney is an international artist and graphic designer who has lived and studied in the US, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. She currently lives in Maynard, Massachusetts, and works as a logo designer, and creative arts and meditation teacher. Her company is Nanri Studio. She holds a BFA in graphic design from the Rhode Island School of Design and is certified in Sacred Art and Yoga from Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Visit her website at nanristudio.com to see logos she has designed as well as information about her meditation classes.