There are lilies on the table today. I love them, beautiful things that they are. Resplendent flowers, impossible to ignore. Perfectly structured for their purpose, yet with a flamboyant, opulent grace and loveliness of form, to my eyes, unrivalled. There is something incredible in knowing their unprepossessing beginnings in the earth and seeing their glory unfold.
I have a particular connection to lilies, of course, through my name:
“…deriving originally from Middle Egyptian “sšn” (lotus flower), first reported on an 11th Dynasty sarcophagus dating from approximately 2000 B.C. However, the Hebrew root for the name for the lily, שושן is derived from the root שוש or ששנ, meaning “to be joyful, bright, or cheerful”, which is the basis for the word and name ששון Sasson, meaning “joy of life*”. The Persian name for lily is سوسن sousan, susan.” Wikipedia
It somehow seems entirely appropriate to me that this name that has survived since antiquity on a coffin should be passed down the generations as new babes are born into the world. It is a name to live up to and though I never managed to be tall and stately, I have touched the joy.
Lilies are one of those flowers people love or hate. They seem to embody so much symbolism, from the purity of the Virgin to a symbol of Death and sorrow… though perhaps the two are not so very different. They both hold the seeds of change and new beginnings. I carried lilies on my wedding day, so many years ago, when a bride, too young, walked down a lofty aisle towards a changed future. I have placed them tenderly on the coffins of the dead as they move from this world to another state. And I have them in my home to remind me of the beauty, fragility and impermanence of all things. They remind me too of something more than that.
This morning, as I lit the candle and closed my eyes for meditation, their perfume was insistent. I could not relax my face as a smile hovered on my lips. As such odd things do, words attributed to Carlos Santana wandered through the mind I was trying to still… “When a baby comes you can smell two things: the smell of flesh, which smells like chicken soup, and the smell of lilies, the flower of another garden, the spiritual garden.”
The first time I heard that I knew he was right about the chicken soup… the words took me back to the birth of my sons. He is right, I think, about the other garden too. There is something about the fragrance of lilies that is otherworldly and seems too much to be possible,
“……such a Snare of Perfume shall fling up into the Air, As not a True Believer passing by But shall be overtaken unaware.” The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
We all know how evocative a scent can be… whether it be as overwhelming as a lily or as awful as a wet dog, the vague nail polish aroma of childhood sweets or that indefinable smell of home… Scents have that immediate power to trigger memory and emotion, transporting us through time and space to another where and when. Yet perfume is invisible, intangible and personal. Volatile molecules hit the olfactory receptors and the brain interprets that unique combination, setting up a sequence of triggers that allow recognition or personal comparison. We can… now… see those molecules… we have made sufficient technological advances to be able to do that, though speculation on the sense of smell dates back at least to ancient Greece.
Yet the molecules are not the perfume… only the things that carry it to our attention. It is within ourselves that those molecules become the evocative, elusive fragrance. You can’t really describe it or show it. You cannot share how you experience a scent, only experience it for yourself.
The perfume that fills my room today is, for me, an affirmation. Beyond what eyes can see or words can share is something invisible and intangible that can only be experienced by every one of us. It is unique to each of us, speaking to us in a whisper only we can hear. We can talk about it, try and share it, as we do with things that move us, yet we can only ever live it and feel it. For me lilies carry the numinous fragrance of possibility, of change and of Life.