Have you ever wanted something so much so that you could never let the desire out of your mind? Sure, you’d get busy with life, but that desire would come back, again and again; just under the surface, waiting for space to invade your mind.
I came across a spectacular Tulip the other day and it reminded me of reading Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. Maybe you saw the PBS special a few years ago.
He explains the history of the Tulip, a flower I had always overlooked until reading his book.
One of the many stories he tells is of Tulip-mania from 1634 to 1637 in Netherlands. This story and especially the Semper Augustus Tulip is what grabbed my attention.
The Dutch were so crazy about Tulips that they were betting their entire fortunes on the bulbs. Desire was overcoming all rational thought. A Semper Augustus, in fact, was sold for the price a flat on 5th Ave. in New York. Millions… for a flower bulb.
The premise of the book is how human desire has changed, protected and developed the variety of foods and plants we eat, drink, smell, smoke and otherwise enjoy, over the history of humanity.
Back to that tulip I stumbled upon.
The day before I came across this tulip, our team of volunteers who work in the isolation room at Romaniv Boys Orphanage visited the grave of one of our boys.
Arsen was actually a man. He came to Romaniv at the age of 7 and lived there for 19 years.
As far as we know, his only diagnosis was Cerebral Palsy, otherwise cognitively typical.
His father would visit him regularly, taking him into town to stay at a hotel for the weekend. Five years ago that ended when his father passed away. Another tragedy was the passing of his older brother, two years ago.
Arsen was a tall, handsome man, who enjoyed going outside. He had not been able to go outside for over a year, because he had outgrown the largest available wheel chair.
In December, 2013, we discussed Arsen’s need for a larger wheel chair with the Mission to Ukraine staff and volunteers, on our ride back to Zhytomyr. They jumped right on it and he had a wheel chair two weeks later.
Christina Kristian, our Wide Awake team member, shared a beautiful day with him in January. Arsen really enjoyed the feel of a sensory ball rolling over his knees and arms. It was beautiful to watch them together.
We were all so excited to go outside together, as soon as the weather changed.
Arsen went into the hospital with infected bed sores and he never recovered. I don’t want to talk about the quality of medical care. I just want to remember this precious young man who loved his father and loved being outside.
He suffered a harder life than many of us could even imagine and now he is free. I imagine him working in the fields, with his dad, on their Dacha (plot of farm land many Ukrainians own). No more weeds, no more struggles to move his body or speak words… heaven.
We carried flowers to his grave last week. We remembered our time together, we remembered our dreams and desires for him and we mourned the difficulties he faced in this life. But we don’t mourn Arsen now. Now we rejoice that he is free.
What the Dutch didn’t know, when they were fawning over that special Tulip, was that the beautiful explosion of colors of Semper Augustus was actually an abnormality caused by a virus.
These people were so captured by the beauty and wonder of this tulip that they would bet beyond what they owed, sell everything and extravagantly pursue the bulb of this flower.
All the other plants Michael Pollan discusses serve a purpose, be it food, drink or medicine; beauty is the only reason the flower has thrived the way it has in this world.
Kim and I have been captured by the beauty of the boys at Romaniv. It has been our joy to trade all our past comforts to pursue this one desire: to behold the beauty of these precious orphans with disabilities and bring comfort, healing and love by whatever means possible.
This is our Tulip-mania. And you better believe that as soon as the dirt settles and the headstone is placed, I will be planting a few bulbs near our friend.