A favorite seasonal tradition has been to sit at my kitchen table and decorate fresh oranges with whole cloves in patterned designs. The haphazard clove zig zags would fail the Martha Stewart standard by a long shot but the time spent with this Christmas handcraft has afforded soulful, oft times revealing hours of conversations with friends and family who have joined in the ritual. Somehow that relaxed and meditative setting has allowed for an opening into deeper reflections that have usually ended up being framed within the spirit of gratitude for things past, for the strength even difficult events had built. Perhaps the sweet scent of orange and clove can be blamed for that.
One of my favorite such gatherings took place repeatedly over several years, when my son was growing up. Our neighbor’s son would come over with his nanny, Rosa, to play most evenings. Thus it was that Rosa, my helper Faviola and I would sit and work on our oranges as the little ones ran around the living room. If memory serves, the first year we did this the boys were four and in a cave man tribal phase in which they found it necessary to strip down to their skivvies and growl from behind the sofas at each other before they giving chase. Their activities morphed eventually through the years into simple tag and talking about the beauty next door on whom they both had crushes. Their tribal exercises apparently had worked because neither perceived any potential complication at all in being smitten with the same girl. I digress.
One year I remember Rosa spoke in cathartic detail of an abusive marriage from which she had eventually escaped. She had had to overcome huge financial challenges whilst raising her family and had done so through grit, resilience and love. As we pierced our oranges I was struck by the dignity and elegance of this wonderful woman. To my mind the dross and chaff of her spirit had been replaced with gold and wheat.
Faviola’s story was quite different. She had hailed from Honduras. Her father had been assassinated and a few years after that Faviola and her seven siblings had been separated and sent to live with an array of relatives when their Mother had died of cancer. She spoke of how it felt to be orphaned at eight. How the playfulness of her then self had balanced her sorrow. How it was not until she was twenty that she really mourned. It was then that she longed for a Mother’s unconditional love and support whilst she embarked on a brand new life, living as a citizen in the US.
Another time a friend spoke gingerly of having been abused as a child. As if transfixed by a campfire, she never took her gaze off the oranges as she spoke. Out poured her tragic memories but by tale’s end she had made it patently obvious that she was not victim of circumstance but rather victor.
Oranges and cloves. Who knew so simple an act could unearth so much? Looking back, even the little boys running around seemed part of a DNA hard wired ritual what with women folk tending to hand crafts and men folk, tiny though they were, gearing up for some distant battle. I hold these and many other holiday talks dear to my heart. They’re threads of lives woven now inextricably into my own and I’m the richer for it. Oranges and cloves. Give it a try.