This may sound crazy but for the past 39 years I’ve been planting flowers all over the world. I’ve planted Cosmos in ‘The Killing Fields’ of Cambodia and by the scene of an acid attack in Zanzibar. Closer to home, I planted 424 multi-colored crocuses around Auguste Rodin’s sculpture of Despair “The Burghers of Calais” … which bloomed this spring in the Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden. And, of course, I always carry a piece of paper that states “In recognition of my inalienable right to pursue Truth and Beauty, I’ve given myself permission to plant flowers.”
Sometimes I think I have an Obsessive Compulsive Floral Beautification Disorder. Other times I think I’m simply trying to bring a little more beauty to the world and balance out some of the evil and destructive forces. Perhaps it’s simply ‘Tikun Olam’—the Jewish concept of keeping it small and doing what an individual can do to mend and repair the world…. Or maybe I’m a Floral Terrorist in Reverse — Someone who creates islands of beauty and joy, the opposite of fear and terror.
But what matters most is the understanding that I need to plant flowers to keep on living. And it’s a bit more than solely wanting to see flowers bloom, enjoying colors and creating places for bees and butterflies to pollinate. The entire process gives me life affirming energy. From taking a tiny seed, placing it in the soil, adding water and then watching it emerge, grow and bloom. Even when the bloom only lasts a few hours. Then the cycle begins anew when the flower creates more seeds…. which I can collect one by one for the next planting. Somehow this is one way of saying I believe in Life and all positive life forces, in spite of all the poop. This is how I re-energize my soul and calm my spirit.
For me, there is an inherent symbiosis between flower planting and creating beautiful things, whether they be collages, mobiles, or performance art pieces. Each re-energizes the other. And I believe flowers are at the root of it all, flowers feed my soul and spirit. Somehow, I’ve stumbled upon the creation of a perpetual energy machine that creates beautiful things in many forms.
I listen to an internal voice, a spirit, my heart. When I see a neglected space and hear a voice that says, “This is a Job for The Phantom Planter”, then I chose not to pretend or ignore what my eyes see. I choose to use my weapons of the spirit. I choose to do what Viktor Frankl called “right action and right conduct”.
As everyone knows, some day we are all going to die. The question is how are you going to live? What spiritual essence can you nourish that will create a little sunshine for others to enjoy?
I plant because I need to create beauty. And so can you. I can’t fully express how much pleasure I get from noticing flowers planted by people I’ve never met and will never meet who plant and tend gardens in public spaces.
And if you chose to continue on your journey forward in your own way of mending and repairing our world, you might just feel something surprising and…unintended. You may just notice a garden of happiness growing between your ears.
Sometimes in the depths of despair when I confront the reality of a truly evil person who continues to inflict his wrath upon our society and create an unhealthy storm cloud wherever he goes, I know there is at least one simple thing I can do about it to preserve my spiritual integrity. I can choose to create beauty. In my mind. In the earth. In the air. Wherever. By planting flowers, I can create beautiful things and maintain my spiritual integrity.
All I’ve ever wanted is to Live first, die second and Make Beautiful Things in Between. I may have only 30 years left on this earth, but I realize my wish has already come true with the aid of a few flower seeds.
And now, for my final thought I wish to leave you with a poem. It came to me decades ago after a guard said I was getting “much too close” to the Egyptian pyramid complex at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I live in a world
So keep your reality
Away from me.
I see what I want
I want what I see
And that is all
Okay by me.
-Itzah C. Kret