When I started the book The 100 Ladies Project I knew that it would be both cathartic and healing for me, but I wanted it, also, to be healing for those who would read it. I regularly pray and meditate before my work on this book and when I draw, as I have said here and in my podcasts, it is a mystical experience. I sit with my sketchbook and pastels and I wait. Then the placement of the head on the page finds its form, and I sit with it awhile and then all of the features come very quickly.
The colors that I pick up, without a plan, knowing not why, are called up by the lady waiting to be born, but this particular lady, Rose, wanted very few colors, very soft colors, ethereal, and as I began to draw her I knew who she was.
Rose is the embodiment of all that is holy to everyone. An angel, the Virgin Mary, any of many Goddesses, Glenda the Good Fairy from The Wizard of Oz, and most importantly a wise woman, a healer, a teacher. I mention all of the above because I want her to be relatable to anyone reading her story, and she will, likely, be the one lady who will appear more than once throughout the book, with many different images, though still the same colors, the same essence. No matter what spiritual path you follow or if you follow none at all, in which case she may represent a much loved aunt or grandmother or friend who has passed on but was very dear to you in this lifetime, Rose is here to be a comfort and a guide for all. She is very much a spiritual guide for me. She took shape quickly and I just sat and looked at her as if I hadn’t drawn her, and meditating upon her face I fell into prayer and a quiet filled the room. Even the animals were quiet. I feel that this particular drawing may appear slightly differently to everyone who views her. She came to me as a gift.
I think that writers write the book that they want to read, the book that they need to give birth to so that they may realize, on a conscious level, the wisdom that their subconscious wants to pass on. After 30 years of teaching journal classes to hundreds of men and women I saw the same thing over and over. As they read their stories out loud there would be a shock of recognition. When you write quickly without stopping to read along the way, a timed writing, you’ve really no idea what you’ve really written until you read it, and reading it aloud in a group is a very powerful experience. Often my students would cry, or tear up, or having trouble going on, or even laugh, surprised at what had come up. This is the way I felt about Rose, and every time I sit with her she has a different message for me.
I see Rose as a gentle wise woman, living in a cottage on the edge of a beautiful wood, in communion with all of the animals around her, the deer and the robin, the dragonfly and the mouse, the snake and the bats, as well as the animals she shares her life with, her dogs and a cat, and she tends to all of the animals using herbs and natural remedies she concocts herself.
Rose has a beautiful garden, vast, encircling her small cottage. She grows all of her own fruits and vegetables, flowers and herbs, and there is magic all around. People come to Rose to be healed, physically, emotionally, spiritually. She is a gentle presence, ageless, and indeed never ages. Once you come down the long road leading back to her cottage and turn into the lane something happens.
There is a sign at the gate that asks that you leave your car there and walk in. As you walk up the long winding pathway the air changes, the powerful fragrance from the gardens fills your senses, tension leaves your body, your head clears. A peace comes over you. The closer you come to her little cottage the less you are surprised that deer are grazing with their young, very close to you, and do not look up, so used, as they are, to a safe existence with Rose, and you feel something shifting inside of you.
Closer still you stop, trying to see all of the gardens in every direction but they are too vast and you wonder how one woman manages all of this amazing landscape of green growing things and flowers too many to count or identify, and the very size of everything that is growing is many times larger than anything you have ever seen.
Finally you see Rose on her front porch, smiling, her long hair falling in curls to her waist, her skin like porcelain, like cream shaded with rose petals, her long cotton dress brushing the ground just above her bare feet, and her apron pockets bulging with, what is that? a kitten in one large pocket and the other pocket full of herbs, lavender, rosemary, and sage with blue flowers showing just over the top of the pocket. She reaches both of her hands out to take yours as if she had been waiting for you, only you, all of her life, and as she embraces you you feel nothing but love, a kind calmness, affection, and compassion. You rest your head on her shoulder for a moment and she strokes your hair. She hugs you gently and then straightens up and takes one of your hands.
“Come inside my dear, let me make us some tea and we will talk…”
No one goes into Rose’s cottage and comes out the same. They have the answers to questions they didn’t know they had, they suddenly know what to do about everything that has been troubling them, and they take herbs and oils Rose has made for gentle healing and to soothe, an armful of flowers and a basket of fruits and vegetables. When you were once home again and partook of the bounty Rose has given you you find that nothing looks the same as it once did, you find yourself wanting to reach out to others, with kindness and compassion, you want to heal and teach and spread the seeds of of all that Rose has taught you, quietly, and gently, to the world around you.
Rose has always been there, waiting for you. If you are one of those who has found your way to her it was predestined, and Rose has been waiting for you your whole life long until the moment you have arrived.
No one knows why they go, or, after they return home, how they got there. No one can ever find their way back again. Such is the magic, the mystery, the miracle that Rose is, and in the end you don’t know if she was real or came to you in a dream, but you are changed, and there sits the basket of herbs, vegetables, and flowers, and for some, some very few, they awaken to a mewing kitten, eyes wide, sitting on their chest, waiting to cuddle and be fed, and her fur has the faint smell of roses.
Finally, it doesn’t matter who Rose is, if she is real, if she even exists, because you know, now, what your purpose is, and you are ready to carry it out. People in the towns and villages far and wide are amazed and delighted by the gardens springing up everywhere, and by the gentle breeze that sweeps into their homes through open windows. Some hear a calling, deep in their soul, and they head to the hidden cottage to find the answers to their questions, and come back home to do the work that they were meant to do, healed and healer in one.
No one ever questions Rose’s existence, where she was or why she came. There is no need to know. They move through the years, their arms outstretched, and welcome those who come with love, and the cycle continues, the mystery remains. There is the possibility of Rose in each and every one of us. Your search ends when you find the secret garden within.