I saw a beautiful aerial image on Facebook of the National Arboretum in Canberra. This place of research, education and recreation has become one of the most gorgeous vantage points in the city, and is popular now for weddings and other happy events, and for families and running groups and tourists.
In January 2003 a firestorm ripped right through the same place, causing mass devastation of the forests and the loss nearby of nearly 500 homes and four lives. Out of the ashes grew something remarkable.
Yesterday, I dropped four excited teenagers into the city wearing onesies and tutus and covered in sunflowers. They were oblivious to the 4-degree chill and the snow on the Brindabellas and the stares of Sunday morning shoppers because they were single-mindedly there to raise money for the Leukaemia Foundation in the Sunflower Dash.
One of the four is about two months in to fighting the disease, and her resilience and optimism reminded me of the arboretum image … because out of the grimness, or the ashes—and despite the ferocity of the chemo—I see a fifteen-year-old who is flourishing. A girl who said on her Instagram account: “I know the work the Foundation are doing definitely does bring even the littlest bit of sunshine and ease to not just my life but my family’s as well. They truly are a wonderful foundation that I and many others are very grateful for!”
What struck me during the journey into town, when I glanced in the rear-view mirror, was that the others were nose-down into their phones. She was the only one looking out the window, even though it was a bleak day, and she’s been there a thousand times before. Because out of the ashes of her disease you can see a new-found appreciation for, well, everything. You can see the illness shaping the woman she will become, almost in front of your eyes.
A friend lost her job this week. She was devastated, because the policy work that she does is in a vital area for families. It’s hard for her to see now that there is any kind of silver lining, but the regrowth will come. It almost always does.
Other friends learnt on the weekend that their dad had suffered a serious accident and has broken his neck. Metaphorically, he’s now where the forest was when the fire hit. He’s where our friend was when she received her cancer diagnosis. He’s where my friend was when she lost her job, though worse.
He’s in the middle of the fire, and once that fire recedes and the ashes cease to glow hot red, the greenery will sprout again. It will sprout again no matter what the outcome is, even if the outcome means a very different kind of life.
We are designed to withstand some “burning” in our lives. See the front cover of this month’s Women’s Weekly if you need convincing. The flames may not always be physical, but they hurt us nonetheless. They scar us.
Afterwards we re-build. We look out the window. We do what we can to help other people. We end up somewhere different from where we imagined. And there, if we look for them, we will find sunflowers.