Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Love Among the Lotus Flowers

5 months ago, I fell in love. I didn't expect it to happen, in fact it was probably the last thing I would have anticipated as I stood in the center of that large, hot, and dusty pottery factory somewhere in Cappadocia, Turkey, watching my mother, father, and sister haggle over some large jugs and decorative bowls. The owner of the factory, a kindly looking older man with an impish smile, seemed all too happy to discuss the various deals he could make, and cup after cup of the region's famous apple tea was brought out as the bargaining continued. Having reached my personal limit for hot beverages served despite the 100+ degree heat, and knowing that I was of little use in figuring out the best price for my mother's new living room decorations, I wandered from the group and made my way over to a smaller, shadier, and (I hoped) cooler room off to the side of the main showroom. At the very least, I figured my exit would allow me to avoid having to "politely decline" any more steaming cups of liquid heat, especially since, when it comes to tea, I was fast learning that the Turks don't really take no for an answer.

I stepped into the dimly lit room and immediately noticed that it was filled, floor to ceiling, with decorative plates hanging on the walls. These plates were in stark contrast to the larger platters displayed out in the main room -- all were vividly painted in rich colors, measuring about 12 inches across, and designed using a concentric circle motif. Intrigued (and relieved by the blessedly cool air in the room), I moved forward and stared up at one of the covered walls. Immediately I noticed that many of the plates appeared to be telling a story, which radiated out from the center of the plate and followed the circles until the outside edge. I also noticed that several of the plates seemed to have the same pattern painted on them (all by hand, I knew, since we had toured the factory prior to entering the showroom), albeit each in a different set of bright, carefully chosen colors. And then, halfway up the second wall and a little to the right, I saw it. And it was an instant, deep, and totally true love.

I knew I had to have the plate right away. The prices were marked on the back of the objects, but of course I knew from my parents' ongoing discussion with the owner in the next room that such things were wholly negotiable. Never mind that, though, I was determined to make this plate my own. As I reached for it and carefully removed it from its place amongst the others, I wasn't even sure why I was so drawn to this particular piece. The simple answer, of course, is that I've always had what my friends in college used to jokingly call an "inner raccoon", meaning that I tend to gravitate strongly towards things that are bright, shiny, and most of all colorful. The plate, of course, was all three of these things, and absolutely gorgeous to boot (trust me, the above picture doesn't even do it justice), but then again so were half the other things in that room, and none of them had made me whip out my credit card yet. I couldn't really articulate why I loved the thing, in other words, but I knew that I did, and that was enough reason for me to take the plate, turn, and rejoin the main room, the empty spot on the wall behind me a glaring testament to my refusal to separate myself from my plate for even a second longer.

As I re-entered the main room, my parents and the shopkeeper were just finishing their final cups of tea, having successfully arranged the purchase of not only their own jugs, but also a large serving platter for my sister (although in all fairness, I believe it was my sister who got the deal pushed through in the end -- the shopkeeper was very much interested in making sure the "lovely young lady" left happy). The old man, having secured his sale, turned towards me and his face lit up as he noticed the plate still clutched protectively to my chest. "Ah, the family print," he sighed, a reference to the fact that this particular plate held the concentric circle markings of his own family, the founders of the pottery mill and craftsmen for several generations. It was this pattern that I had seen repeated so often on other plates hanging in the room, though not in the brilliant reds, golds, and blues that made my plate so special. He scurried over to me and took the plate from my fingers, carefully tracing its textured surface with his own. "See here," he explained, "the central flower in the middle of the plate is the lotus blossom. A sign, in our tradition, of creation and perseverance, as this flower grows out of the mud from the bottom of the pond and emerges into the light above the water as a full and beautiful bloom." He paused and seemed to think for a moment before he added, "also, we say, it is a symbol of rebirth and new starts. The lotus folds itself away each night, disappearing beneath the surface to emerge again with the dawn." He broke out into a wide grin as I breathlessly whispered "perfect."

I didn't get much of a bargain for my lotus flower, especially when compared to the amazing deal orchestrated by the rest of my family in my absence. Maybe it was my refusal to sit down and drink another pot worth of scalding-hot tea, or the whiteness of my knuckles around the plate as I emerged from the dark room, or maybe it was something as simple as the way I held my breath as he described the plate's symbolism and the life-cycle of the lotus flower. Most likely it was my simple response, "perfect", that really did me in, although to be honest it really doesn't matter. I would have paid more for the plate, if I'd had to, and as it was the folded bills of Turkish Lira that I handed over seemed a weak offering for such a beautiful thing. It's amazing how money pales in the face of true love, after all.

5 months later I still look at the plate almost daily. I haven't yet hung it in my apartment, in fact, because I never could decide on the best place for something I love that much. Instead it sits on my kitchen counter, sometimes holding a couple pieces of fruit or some other object, but mostly just sitting there -- its open blossom a visible reminder of life, perseverance, and rebirth. And crazy as it sounds, there are moments when I just stand and stare at it, letting its color wash over me, and returning to the intense feeling of joy and rightness that I felt that first time I spotted the plate on a poorly-lit wall in a side room of a tiny pottery factory.

Today I tried my hand at recreating the bloom that I love so much on paper. It is, obviously, imperfect, but I wanted to try in honor of my friend (and many of yours also) who is living her last days in joy and peace right now down in Texas. She is, to me, an amazing example of rising up from the mud, growing through that dense water, and emerging above the surface as the most beautiful of blossoms. And although she might disappear again beneath the waters soon, I know she will continue to bloom in so many ways. So I'm dedicating this very humble effort to Courtney and her family, and to everyone awaiting a rebirth or transformation, as a reminder that what comes from mud can be beautiful, and that what at first seems delicate might be, in fact, the very picture of strength and what it means to persevere.


  1. That's an amazing story. I can't tell you how much I was hanging on each word. I love your posts, (your entire blog really) and I especially love this one about Courtney. Thanks for an amazing read!

  2. Piper, I love you, I want to have little blog babies with the writing of the post, and I hate you for making me cry!

  3. simply beautiful...the writing and the plate.

    The reproduction is gorgeous too!!!!!

    LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Beautiful post and beautiful reproduction!

  5. Wonderful story Pipes, the telling of it and your beautiful artwork are a memorable and fitting way to pay homage to Court. Thanks

  6. I've been lurking here for a little while, a hop over from Natalia's blog. I suffer my own chronic illness and have had quite a journey over the last three years, although nothing compared to CF, it is my struggle that I battle to win everyday. I was overcome with your post today as last year on my bday I got a tattoo (I'm a goody-to-shoes so this was a big deal) of a lotus flower. I'd done a lot of research and the meaning and symbolism of this beautiful blossom hit me so hard I couldn't stop thinking about it. Now every time I look at it I'm reminded of the rebirth I'm continuously going through and how through all the mud amazing things emerge. I'm glad you get the same pleasure and feeling from your beautiful plate. It truly is a magical flower. Your words to your friend were beautiful. Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving this week.