A Great Longing
From my earliest memories, I was the longing kind—I longed for friends, I longed for boys to like me, I longed for my skin to be darker, my waist to be thinner, my parents to be more normal, my self to be cooler.
I longed my way into college and, after that, I longed my way into being in love. I longed myself into jobs and spiritual frenzies and entire personas that were not really me. And when my mother got sick and died, then, too, I longed for things to be different. I longed for family. I longed not to feel fractured. I longed to feel some kind of home, sometime again.
I longed for love.
And then, one day, I longed to stop longing. In the wake of utter exhaustion— the mental and physical depletion of grief, spiritual seeking, and emotional hunger—the longing fell away. Finally, I didn’t want anything outside of myself. Instead, I began the work of stripping myself down to be made anew.
I wanted to be made of freedom, not fear. Action instead of tears. Wildness instead of longing.
It is said that the mind will only truly change when it grows so weary of itself it cannot stand to repeat its machinations for even one more moment. And so it was with me, that the heavier the grief weighed on me, the more I wanted to be free. For years, I let grief subsume me in its shadowy net, allowed feeling to run through me like water. I let myself go through every stage Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined for the one who grieves. I wrote dark poetry. I railed against the injustice of having a heart that was broken in one half by the loss of my mother, my best friend, and broken in another by the love I thought I’d be with for always. Though my heart has broken many times since, the first strike—and my commitment to emerge from it with some semblance of wholeness—was enough to birth a transcendent will to change. To stop longing.
Because when the heart is broken so many times, it either breaks, once and for all, or, in its exquisitely shattered state, it becomes unbreakable.
What came when I stopped longing was being, pure and wild. Being with food that nourished me. Being with plants and flowers that healed by virtue of their very existence, their wildness. Being, no matter how much my heart hurt.
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love, remember,” Ophelia says as she presses the herb into her brother’s palm. Shakespeare knew: The way we remember our humanity is by knowing our relationship to the world around us, to the plants that sustain us.
The herbs and flowers that populate the chapters of this book were each critical elements in a world, a life, that was about being more than longing. Rose soothed a dozen broken hearts, lavender tamed my mind and fought away tears, oregano cleared out emotional detritus, fennel softened the calcifications that kept me hard, jasmine took my breath away, and basil gave it back again. Rosemary grounded my feet on the earth, thyme strengthened my resolve, and mint kept me awake. Orange blossom sweetened my tongue when cilantro reminded me of bitterness, and sage kept clear watch over my heart’s truth.
These plants are my pulse. They are my way back, again and again, to the wild. I pray you, love, remember.