In 2005 I found myself reeling from the loss of two dear friends. No one welcomes death, nor does it ever feel timely, but when someone is in their early thirties and the rug of life is pulled out from underneath them, it seems especially cruel.
Renton Kirk and Janet Dromgoole had no business dying when they were incredibly busy living, and yet... One day Renton was making films and pushing all of us to be creative and he drowns at 34 years old. One day Janet was planning her wedding and in a high profile job making wigs for Broadway shows and opera companies, and then her heart stops during her morning run at the age of 31. I couldn’t seem to knit my broken heart together once they were gone. Time kept passing and I stayed stuck in sadness. I couldn't move forward. The quicksand of death is devastating. I felt like my grief was closing in on me.
I was catering and had a waiter friend at the time, Andre, and he would listen to my sad tales of me missing my friends. Andre happened to have arms that were covered in tattoos. I was fascinated by the stories he would tell about each of them. He carried his memories and history in his ink.
One night as we were working, Andre suggested I tribute my friends with a tattoo. Something I could adorn myself with that would bring me joy when I thought of them. A symbol that would represent their loss, but also would give me hope as I created a new life without Janet and Renton. He asked about some of my favorite images. I immediately thought of lotus flowers.
The lotus flower is a potent symbol that grows strong and beautiful from the murkiest depths. The roots of the lotus are deeply embedded into the bottom of river beds or ponds, while the flowers and leaves float atop the surface of the water.
Andre told me that many people choose a lotus flower as their first tattoo. They’ve gone through a tragic experience and they’re finding themselves on the other side of it. We talked about the symbolism of the growth of lotus flowers and how they relate to life. Oftentimes before the bloom of a situation comes we have to endure the mud. There’s a balance created that somehow provides order in the midst of chaos.
I’d always loved the Buddhist saying "No Mud, No Lotus" and now I had a personal attachment to its meaning. I started finding images of lotus blossoms and I finally selected the perfect one to bring in to Andre’s tattoo artist. I had mantras all set to say and sweet thoughts of Renton and Janet to offer up as I was in the chair. It was an incredibly meaningful, albeit painful, experience.
My lotus flower is behind me on my lower back. I never see it and rarely think about it. It was the perfect action to take to help me heal from the loss of my friends. They are with me always, giving me strength as I continually move forward. Their memory is sealed in, planted into who I am.
Last month I took a trip out to the New York Botanical Garden with my friends Andy and Robert. The lotus ponds were in glorious bloom! All sorts of water lilies and lotus flowers were dancing on the surface of the water. It felt like Renton and Janet were with me. They were truly some of the most breathtaking flowers I’d ever seen.
No Mud, No Lotus. Life often feels muddy. A slog. Hopeless. I’m all for positivity but if we don’t sit with the notsogreat experiences, we won’t be able to welcome the blooms that are waiting to emerge. It’s important to acknowledge the hard times. Bless them, don’t curse them. The roots will be fed by the muddy water - something better is growing and finding its way to the surface.
After our field trip to the Botanical Gardens, we went back to Robert’s apartment and he cooked for the cooks! Andy and I cook for a living and it is the greatest treat when someone else cooks for us. Robert stepped up to the plate and hit a home run with this recipe. He made the Veggie Burger Stacks from Food and Wine Magazine. These are photos from that special dinner. Didn't Robert do an outstanding job? I can't wait to make this recipe myself.