Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
This was one of the songs my mother sang to me when I was a little girl. This one and Que Sera Sera were my two favorites, and while they always seemed sad to me, I loved the melodies, and even more, I loved my mother’s cathartic voice when she sang them.
When my parents divorced, I would lie in bed and sing these two songs intermittently to my five-year-old self, and the emptiness that I had tried to bury all day long with activity and busyness would come back creating some sort of gasping for breath in my throat that eventually brought tears from my eyes.
Where have all the flowers gone would be the last thought in my mind before falling asleep.
Eventually, I would grow older and the emptiness that my little girl self felt at night subsided. It never fully dissipated, but I could control it better and that control felt safe and powerful for my teenage self and my early 20’s self.
But then, at 25 years old, I suffered a monumental loss when the place where I worked and many friends who I worked with were taken away in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
The night of September 11th, I laid in bed and sang to myself where have all the flowers gone, long time passing. The same emptiness was back, and without me being able to do anything, this time it wasn’t gasping in my throat, but a form of choking and then great big sobs that rendered me powerless.
Where have all the flowers gone rang in my ears until I fell into a restless sleep.
It took me years after that to forgive and make peace with a world so cruel and so angry. The how’s and the why’s could not be explained to me in years of history and politics. I wasn’t interested in the past mistakes of our government and in the other side’s political unrest. I wasn’t used to that kind of world where killing people in mass was the answer. I wasn’t used to killing being an answer to anything.
Where have all the flowers gone lingered in my head up until Cynthia was born when I decided to sing all the joyful songs of motherhood like John Jacob Jingle Jingleheimer Schmidt and Do-Re-Mi. There would be no sad songs sung to my children, and I continued to sing songs of happiness for little Stephen who preferred Bingo and Froggie Went a’ Courtin’.
When I turned 40 years old, my emptiness returned, most likely because of being present in a world where there was so much pain and hurt. From an acquaintance losing her daughter in a car accident to the Sandy Hook Massacre to a child in Stephen’s pre-K class having his parents executed in their home to the Charleston shootings, I couldn’t deny all the brutal pain happening around me and having no control over any of it. I started humming to myself Where have all the flowers gone?
It made sense to find a good therapist as I had made a commitment to myself to try to heal for the sake of my family, and through intense work and a great coach, the therapist I found helped me to reconcile these losses that I had never reconciled before.
In fact, just like in my youth, I had taught myself to bury the feelings of emptiness under the busyness of work and activity.
It wasn’t easy, but we went way back to the wounds of childhood and unpacked them band-aid by band-aid until the healing of these hurts looked like faded scars as opposed to open wounds.
It was powerful healing, and while I could still hum Where have all the flowers gone in my head, I didn’t wince when I repeated the words.
But in the past six weeks, the same emptiness I felt starting as a small child has returned, and I constantly hear myself saying Where have all the flowers gone?
I live in this world where we are hurting our brothers and sisters who look, believe, act and/or love differently than we do, and it suffocates me. It drowns the light out of my world, and it pains my soul to its core. Whereas emptiness was the word I used to describe my past feelings, now I have two words: emptiness and anger.
Emptiness for the souls who don’t believe every single human deserves the same exact rights and privileges as we do; and anger on behalf of the marginalized people who constantly have to defend themselves because they look, believe or love differently. Let me be clear when I say we cannot truly love our sisters and brothers if we don’t want them to have the same rights as everyone else. It’s that simple, and yet, it’s apparently that complex.
The anger and emptiness stay with me as I sing myself to sleep, but this time I’m singing different words over and over again.
When will they ever learn.
When will they ever learn?