When I moved up to my new house in Rhode Island, my garden was a dust bowl. Once I decided that I wanted my front yard to be full of flowers, shrubs and trees--no lawn--I had to put up a fence to keep the deer out. It was only at the last minute that I realized I needed to block the entrance from the street as well. Deer make no distinction between prancing into the garden daintily via the road versus tromping up through the backfields--they’re heading for the fresh, organic greens whichever way they can get to them.
So up went a garden gate. I have never had a gate before, and I fell in love with it. There is something childlike about the feeling of security I get from latching the gate behind me when I come home--or the anticipation I experience when I approach, wondering how the new arrivals from the nursery have held up. The gate, I notice, is agnostic about whether its message is “Welcome” or “Keep Out”. I suppose it depends on my visitors’ moods.
For its first year, the gate remained unadorned. Then, one morning my son Theo and I wandered into the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. (I’ve included a picture of a detail of the astonishing sculpture outside that first drew us to the cathedral.) We happened upon several Tibetan monks making an intricate, exquisitely patterned mandala out of colored sands. They had set up a small table with souvenirs, so we bought a box of incense (for which we both have a weakness) and a string of Tibetan Prayer Flags. I hung the flags across my gate as soon as I got home, where they looked quite cheery, though it did cross my mind to wonder how I had become the sort of person who goes in for bird feeders, wind chimes, and Buddhist accessories. Oh well.
Then I realized I had no idea what the prayers were actually praying for, and that bothered me. What if they were calling down revenge? Unlikely, given the provenance, but still….So a quick visit to the beloved Wikipedia yielded the information that prayer flags do not actually carry prayers to gods. They are “used to promote peach, compassion, strength and wisdom.” Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread good will to everyone.
“The prayers of a flag become a permanent part of the universe as the images fade from exposure to the elements”--which, I might add, seems to happen within a week of sun and rain. “Just as life move on and is replaced by new life, Tibetans renew their hopes for the world by continually mounting new flags alongside the old. This act symbolizes a welcoming of life changes and an acknowledgement that all beings are part of a great ongoing cycle.”
So that answers that. Those prayer flags came into my life with slow love.