Tag Archives: sunflower

New Beginnings.

Being creative, is rather like stacking Lego bricks of all shapes, colours and sizes together blind-folded and having no destination at the start. Much of the time, at least for me, there’s no “end” at the beginning. So, it was when it came to photographing the diminishing remains of our gingerbread house…a Christmas treat. I had no idea what a few simple photographs would become.

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The Gingerbread House in its Pristine State. Made by Bremen Patisserie, Australia.

Last night, after my daughter and I sliced off a few more walls of the gingerbread house, it looked like it had been bombed. The walls were barely upright and overnight the roof caved in and the house was all but destroyed. Yet, the little icing figurines were still smiling, which is a lot easier when you’re an icing figurine and your smile’s permanently drawn on.

Being the end of a year which many decreed an “annus horribilis”, I decided to photograph the crumbling gingerbread house and post it under the heading: “The End of the World”.

Rowena

Getting treatment in hospital a few years ago.

No doubt, I was subconsciously relating back to a few years in my life where I couldn’t wait for the calendar to flip over to the new year. Times when I could sense a dreadful, all-pervading terror permeating through my bones, invading each and every cell. It was vile. Fortunately, my situation turned around but I’ll never forget. Nor, am I meant to forget because that pain is a hand reaching out to those who are still in that house of horrors and maybe, just maybe, I can help ease someone out. After all, I have been there. I know a way.

Perhaps, that’s why I decided to photograph its demise. There was that sense of connection…recognition of an interior state reflected in its crumbling exterior.

At the same time, the ongoing demolition of the gingerbread house, had great comic appeal. What started out as a perfect work of art with its gingerbread walls, iced snow and gorgeous little icing people, was being eaten alive by yours truly relaxing in her chair with a cup of tea. I could see a children’s movie with me cast as the giant villain…Nightmare on Gingerbread Street.

Anyway, as I said, this post was going to read: “The End of the World”.

However, when I took the house outside and photographed it with the sunflower rising behind it like the sun, the post turned on its head and became: “New Beginnings.”

Suddenly, there was hope.

sunflower-and-hand

Holding the sunflower.

That was when things started bubbling away in that great melting pot inside my head. That place where one idea not only leads to another, but somehow they also melt and fuse together, making something new and ultimately significant.

Sunflower letter

Sunflower seeds from the Ukraine

You see, the sunflower growing in my backyard is no ordinary sunflower. Rather, it was grown from seeds salvaged from the crash site of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in the Ukraine. It’s grandparents witnessed the horror of that explosion in the sky and crashing devastation.

Yet, being sunflowers, they have no memory of that being passed down from generation to generation. Rather, oblivious to the past, their seeds keep falling to the ground, being eaten by birds and re-sprouting…ignorant.

While initially this might seem a better path, those aching memories also keep those who died alive in our hearts. Ultimately, as much as it hurts when we lose someone we love, we don’t want to forget. We don’t want to let go.

I didn’t take this photo thinking of the people living near Torez in Donetsk Oblast, a Ukrainian with their horrific, graphic memories set in stunning, sunflower fields. It was just like so many other creative  ideas. What started out as photographing the leftovers of our gingerbread house, metamorphosed into something else.

It was only when I saw the little family with the sunflower rising up behind them like the sun, that I thought of the people in the Ukraine.  I thought of the sun still rising and setting in the middle of their war torn homes, where a foreign plane fell like murdered bird from the sky. The plane and all its passengers and crew crashed into their backyards. That’s intimate, personal and sticks to your soul like glue.

I have never met and will never meet these people. There is nothing I can do as a distant Australian to ease their trauma and grief other than knowledge it with this photograph and send my love…the love of a stranger.

That is even though MH17 was shot down on  17 July 2014…two and a half years ago . Yet, just because these were civilian war time casualties, it doesn’t mean we’ll forget and ever stop striving for peace in our time and beyond.

Let’s keep sowing these seeds and helping them grow.

Love,

Rowena

PS I have wondered why my sunflowers don’t look like conventional sunflowers and thought they must’ve been a different type. However, when I saw the photo of the original sunflower in the field, they also had the broad centres, which grow into vast numbers of seeds. This does concern me.

So, today I went and bought two bags of enriched potting mix and have planted 3 seeds in a small pot, saved one seed and planted the rest of the seeds in a huge pot.

I never pictured myself as a sunflower farmer. Or, you could just called me a “Sunfarmer”.

It has a certain ring to me!

 

Sunflower…A Christmas Miracle.

This sunflower growing in my garden finally unfurled the last of its petals today. By the afternoon, it had turned its golden, yellow face towards the warm Australian sun, oblivious to the long and winding road which brought it here.

What it doesn’t know, is that it’s “grandparent” witnessed the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in the Ukraine, killing all 298 people onboard.

Moreover, this sunflower doesn’t know that an Australian journalist and photographer salvaged seeds from the crash site and brought them back to Australia. These seeds were cultivated in quarantine and their seeds were posted out to family and friends of the victims.

may your sunflowers bloom

A personal message from journalist Paul McGeogh & Kate Geraghty who sent me the sunflowers.

That’s why it’s extra special that the sunflowers are flowering for Christmas. It means so much!

How these seeds ended up in my garden is a long story, but I have been sharing their story on my blog. I have also taken the seedlings to local schools with a view of teaching the kids about compassion, kindness and how even the smallest acts of kindness can make a difference. I am a real believer in the strange, inexplicable love of a stranger. That as much as we expect our loved ones to be there in our hour of need, frequently we are touched by the love of a stranger who steps out of their comfort zone and is there for us. This is not so much heroism, and yet it is. We can all make a difference, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant we might feel. Every single one of us are movers and shakers, especially when we get together and the one becomes many.

sunflower-and-hand

What I particularly like about the sunflower story is that it perfectly illustrates that even in the depths of darkness and despair, even when the world seems swamped by violence, anger and hate there is still human kindness, love and compassion. There are still individuals who will stand up and be counted, even at the point of putting their own lives on the line.

That’s huge.

A few months ago, I received a request for sunflower seeds from a relative of the Malaysian pilot who was him in the attack. They’d lost their seeds when they moved and she was devastated and started search the web until she found me and the blog. That meant so much to me. I sent her 5 seeds and I hope they flourish. We’re keeping in touch.

I still have around 2o seeds which I’ll be planting shortly and I am doing my very best to produce plenty of seeds to take their message forward.

Although I didn’t know any of the people on board personally, I never want to forget them or what happened. Yet, I also remember how the love of two strangers reached out through the darkest of hours and gave love.

So, I will do what I can this Christmas to pass the message on.

xx Rowena

 

 

Sunflower Seedlings…Lessons in Kindness.

This morning, I carefully packaged the sunflower seedlings up into a protective box. It wasn’t Fort Knox but they looked safe, especially once I’d strapped them into the back seat with a seat belt. I know this might sound over the top and I don’t know if you can be a helicopter parent to plants. However, if you’ve been following the progress of the sunflower seeds, you’ll know these aren’t any ordinary sunflowers. These sunflowers seeds came from the site of the MH17 crash in the Ukraine in 2014. They’re incredibly precious!

 

That’s also why they were in my car.I wanted to share their story with my daughter’s class. Miss goes to school 45 minutes drive away from home and with my “creative” approach to driving, that was a very long journey up along the free and through bumper-to-bumper peak hour  traffic. Slam on the brakes…ouch.

Hence the seat belt!! Moreover, you could say the cardboard box was somewhat like one of those protective car seats you sit your toddler in. I wanted them to be so safe, that I could’ve bought a Volvo.

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The Sunflower Seedlings.

Of course, I could’ve left the sunflower seedlings safely at home but I felt there was something bigger at stake. That I didn’t need to wait until the flowers actually bloomed to share their message of kindness, love and reaching out even to complete strangers when tragedy strikes. That we all start out as seeds and with love, care and nutrients and we can grow up into someone gorgeous and productive, giving our seeds back to the earth, feeding the animals and helping to wipe away the dark clouds by simply being ourselves…nothing flash. I also thought of the teachers who were onboard and how they sowed those metaphorical seeds into so many students, who went on to carry their message forward. BUT…then I also think of all those beautiful passengers whose lives were tragically cut short…every day people who were just coming home from holidays. Of course, I think of the Maslin family who lost their three beautiful children and have created a foundation to raise money for children with dyslexia. I want to help sow those seeds too. After all, words are seeds and being able to read is something most of us take for granted.

So, as I watched the sunflowers poke their heads through the soil, I came to realise that  just the fact that the seeds had sprouted, was enough for them to speak. Tell their story.

The sunflower is extraordinary and I’ve always had a connection with them but not in the same way I have now.

In August 2014, commercial flight MH17 was shot down by terrorists in the Ukraine killing everyone on board. That plane which bore the brunt of so much anger and hate, crashed into a stunning field of sunflowers, a coincidence not lost on the media. Photos and footage appeared of the ugly scar carved into the sunflowers’ heart and photographer said that the sunflowers even turned their faces away from the wreckage.

Paul McGeough is the Sydney Morning Herald’s Senior Foreign Correspondent specialising in the Middle East. He’s accustomed to reporting on horrific events around the world, the same way the rest of us eat toast for breakfast. “When most people are running away from a place, photographer Kate Geraghty can usually be found running towards it.” Yet, they were guttered by what they saw and felt drawn to bring sunflower seeds back to Australia from the crash site to give to the families and friends of the victims.  They wanted to give them something to remember and honour their loved ones who weren’t soldiers fighting in a war. There weren’t going to be any medals. They were just everyday people going on a holiday.

Nothing more, nothing less.

The children making the love hearts.

Our children making the hearts cards we sent out. They look quite young now.

I received about 40 seeds and decided to share them with our local schools to create some kind of ongoing tribute of legacy for those who died.  However, I was too anxious to plant the seeds last year but I planted the first lot of seeds ten days ago and six have sprouted.

Of course, the seedlings arrived safely at school and I ended up sharing them with my daughter’s class and a year 6 class.  I also shared the letter I’d received with them wishing”May your sunflowers bloom” and the photo of the original plant in the Ukraine. I also had one of our red hearts stuck in there.

It was a simple story with a few precious props but the kids were riveted, sitting still and absorbing it all and asking questions at the end. I spoke to them about the kindness of the journalist and photographer salvaging the seeds and bringing them back to Australia via quarantine. I spoke about how we can feel powerless when someone is going through hardship and that though we can’t change anything, we can show we care through little things like a card. I also spoke about the importance of learning and literacy. Many of the Australians killed had been teachers and a little boy from Perth, Otis, had dyslexia and his family has set up a fund to raise money for dyslexia. I wanted them to appreciate that you can plant a plain, ordinary seed and when you nurture that seed, it can grow into something big, bold and colourful.

You can tell kids to be kind, keep their hands and feet to themselves, watch their language, and you might be lucky to see some change.However, I know these kids were changed by this story…a very simple story of plucking, sowing and nurturing the seeds  and I can’t wait to witness the harvest.

It is my hope that these sunflowers and their story will truly honour all those whose lives were tragically cut short through anger and hate and somehow carry their legacy forward.

While sowing a few seeds might not seem monumental and the sort of thing you’d ever expect to change the world, but I strongly believe they can!

Hearts Ettalong

They’re sowing the seeds in our hearts!

xx Rowena

 

 

Compassion in Action!! Sowing those precious sunflower seeds…

Back in December as the New Year approached, I posed a new vision:

“Ask not what the world can do for you but what you can do for your world.”

– Rowena.

It’s an ambitious question particularly as I’ve been largely parked at home for the last month with a broken foot and what I’ve coined the “Operatic Cough” which really does involve some combination of choking, gasping and the bark of an Alsatian. Even at the best of times, I’m not usually physically out and about but have my moments.

Like most of humanity, I could describe myself as a grain of sand in the overall scheme of things or…

a seed.

What can I do?

Well, I can do what I’ve always done…write about it and now thanks to the world wide web, my “writings about it” spread around the world, even if they are still not being read by the masses. Last year, they actually found there way to 62 countries, which really amazed me when I only have a small following.

Yesterday, I encouraged you to join us for “1000 Voices Speak for Compassion”.

Today, I would like to share a beautiful example of Compassion in Action.

In an age when news has a very short life span, it sometimes feels like the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 has been consigned to history. While I didn’t know anyone on board the plane personally, I spent the day in front of my TV set with a torn and broken heart not knowing who was on board and doing a mental calculation of all the people I knew who traveled regularly and was relieved when I knew they were all on home soil. It took quite some time for the names of those on board to be released, although it seems that those who were affected knew fairly early on. Yes, they knew.

Yet, many of us have a broad circle of friends and acquaintances and there’s always that stranger we sat next to on the bus who might just have been on board. All of a sudden, at least for me, these incidental connections suddenly gained weight and I really did feel a personal connection to all the Australians on board. Although geographically big, Australia has a relatively small population and when something like this happens, there’s usually a personal connection. Somebody we know, knew someone on board. In our family, my husband actually knew an American who had lost family members through a online photography community he belong to. I remember the look of stunned horror on his face when he told me the news.

I am a great believer in the love of a stranger. I have experienced it many times myself, largely in relation to my ongoing health issues and disability but there have been a number of times where I have loved a stranger very, very deeply in a way that defies logic. At times, I’ve almost been consumed by such love and compassion for a stranger and these feelings generally have no outlet. No means of expression. Moreover, these feelings aren’t always easy to live with either because as much as there is great love and compassion, there is also great pain. A pain I could perhaps choose to leave behind. Walk away from. Decide not to get involved. It’s not my problem and yet quite often circumstances draw me further in. I stray across an article. Bump my mouse accidentally and stray across a post, a story that I was destined to read and I am carried further and further along this path…a journey I never intended to take with someone I don’t even know and most of the time, I can even tell them I care.

Quite often, these journeys also take me away from paying attention to my own family. Those who are my first loves and I can get a little lost in a sense on these journeys. Indeed, I have been learning over the years how to switch back and forth a bit better so I am still present in the present.

Anyway, I was catching up on my newspaper reading today desperately trying to clean up when I found a followup article to the MH17 tragedy. This is the second article I have found by Australian journalist, Paul McGeogh.

Sydney Morning Herald’s Chief Foreign Correspondent, Paul McGeogh was deeply and exceptionally moved by MH17.  “More than 25 years as a correspondent have taught me to curb sentimentality as I observe the unreasonable randomness of pain, suffering and uncertainty in this world.”

However, McGeogh and  Sydney Morning Herald photographer Kate Geraghty felt in a sense called to send sunflower seeds salvaged from the actual time and place of the “crash” to friends and family of the victims.

Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower Seeds

What started out as a compassionate gesture, actually became a personal quest. We’re talking about taking seeds from a hostile war zone with extremely  limited access and bringing them back to Australia, which has equally restrictive quarantine laws. It doesn’t take long to realise that this compassion gesture would, at the very least, be complicated.

http://www.smh.com.au/world/were-from-the-government-and-were-here-to-help-the-mh17-sunflower-seeds-offer-20150102-12gjis.html

You can read McGeogh’s account and see photos taken at the time here:

http://www.smh.com.au/world/my-christmas-offering-sunflower-seeds-for-mh17-families-from-the-fields-of-ukraine-20141226-12dily.html

This story of the journalist and the photographer is such a powerful example of compassion in action. I can just imagine that these two live out of a suitcase chasing the big stories with the focus and enthusiasm that has made them amongst the best in their field.

Yet, as McGeogh pointed out, this journey was about 38 murdered Australian and their family and friends and yet his compassion was inversely proportioned to the people he was desperately sought to touch. This time not through the power of the pen and the camera but through action, deed and the heart.

Our family was also touched by this tragedy in a very personal way and our kids drew hearts on red cardboard, cut them out and stuck them on paddlepop sticks and sent them to people we could identify knew the victims. There were quite a few schools affected and they became the focus of our efforts. I also photographed the hearts beside our local beach before I sent them off.

The hearts photographed on the waterfront.

The hearts photographed on the waterfront.

The red hearts were inspired by the red poppies which the children make each ANZAC Day honouring those who died at war. Historically speaking, these people were in the forces and civilians haven’t been honoured, at least as far as I’m aware. The 38 Australians who were murdered on Flight MH17 were also casualties of war…a war which had nothing to do with Australia. They weren’t in uniform fighting for their country. They were simply on holidays. No matter who you are or where you live, holidays are sacred.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find the most recent story online.

I also learnt of a different kind of seed.

You might recall that three Perth children Mo, Evie and Otis Maslin and their grandfather were among those onboard MH17. A charitable foundation has been established not to only honour their memory but also to help make a difference. The Mo, Evie and Otis Maslin Foundation will assist children with dyslexia and other learning difficulties. It turns out that young Otis had difficulties.  The details of how to donate are in the article:

https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/lifestyle/a/25344883/maslins-set-up-dyslexia-fund/

I’ll also mention a foundation set up to honour the memory of mother and barrister, Katrina Dawson, who died following the terrorist siege in Sydney’s Lindt Cafe. The Katrina Dawson aims to continue her devotion to women’s education :http://www.thekatrinadawsonfoundation.org/

It is incredibly inspirational that both these families are wanting to give back to the world at a time of absolutely paralysing and debilitating grief. It is incredibly humbling!!!

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”― Kahlil Gibran

I am left in respectful silence…

Love!!!

Rowena

Sunflower Collage, Miss aged 7 2013.

Sunflower Collage, Miss aged 6 2012.

The sunflower pictures here were made by our daughter at school when she was 6. I subsequently lacquered it for conservation and mounted it on a canvas. The original was simply made using sunflower seeds, construction paper, glue and a teacher’s inspiration. The collage has obviously taken on deeper significance after attack on MH17, which fell into fields of flowering sunflowers in war-torn Ukraine. When I look at this picture I often think of the beautiful Maslin children who were just like my kids…all our precious children and so very, very loved and cherished!!!