Roses from Egypt
Oh, rose, with your powerful call to heart work and unabashed embodiment of spiritual wisdom unfolding in people’s lives.
— Meg Smith
I used to shy away from roses.
It is hard to admit that it was only years later in my life that I truly began to learn their language.
Today, in the crowded room full of immigrants, I look up and intersect the gaze of an Egyptian.
We catch the expression on each other’s faces. He doesn’t look friendly. I smile anyways.
At the coffee break, at the moment when everyone has hastened out of the claustrophobic room, I slip two chocolate bars (courtesy of the Frenchman) on the humble little coffee table with its terrible tepid coffee and plastic cups. I figured this room full of folks needed something a bit more cheerful to get through this day.
The Egyptian comes back into the room and catches me in the act of providing the contraband.
A few minutes later, he comes to sit with me, giving me a piece of chocolate, telling me that one can’t give without taking, too.
Over lunch, where we make stabs with our French and fall into wounded lulls wherein we cannot express, he invites me, Frenchman, and Little Bird to his home in the Muslim quarter of the city for a home-cooked Egyptian meal. It is my first truly social outing since landing here and my heart is unfolding in gratitude.
I gather up the last of my precious dried roses to take to the feast, to give to him; Rose is well-known for matters of the heart and we are all a bit homesick, we immigrants. But these particularly powerful roses (Rosa centifolia) also happen to have come from Egypt.
Like many in our pool of immigrants—particularly those from Egypt, Syria, and Afghanistan, almost all of whom are in their early twenties or mid-thirties—the Egyptian is excellent with children; he is as wise as a child, and as wise as a true Elder. I do not know if this is merely cultural difference or if it is a hybrid from the curious effects of trauma (many of these individuals have witnessed great troubles) in those who are now called to a certain wisdom.
But I do know that it is among them that I have witnessed a living example of Rose, one I’ve never seen elsewhere.
There arises an ineffable unfolding of pure love when a child enters into their midst: the immigrants flow towards and surround the child, murmuring, playing, smiling, laughing, greeting, touching, loving, simply being. A complete absence of social formality or barriers or personal concerns reigns and the atmosphere is a heady infusion of celebration. Something is being celebrated, something some of us will perhaps only feel and resonate once or twice in a lifetime. For a moment, time seems to stop with this aisthesis of the heart.
It is, indeed, rather like the unfolding of the many petals of a rose in the midst of a brilliant and temperate day, all thorns forgotten in this perfect unfurling, and the effects of this heart-energy can be felt for days afterwards. This curious collective heart cognition upon encountering a child is the closest thing on earth I’ve seen that may compare with those who have had near-death experiences, who come back and say they have experienced the purest, most unspeakable sensation of love.
And, like Rose, just on the other side of this extraordinary, joyful expression of love lies grief. One cannot be known without some taste of the other.
It is in a lull of the feast, when my back is turned, tending to Little Bird, that I hear the Egyptian speaking to my husband. He is saying, quite to my surprise, that he was once married to an Englishwoman.
That she had very much wanted a daughter of her very own, and that her heart had chosen the same name as Little Bird has.
Later, he will speak of the shortness of life, the uselessness of worry.
A bit of the past slips through my mind—the popularity of roses in some of the ancient tombs of Egypt.
There is an aching in my heart that unfolds in a repeated, cresting tide.
When we arrive home, it is I who reach for Rose.