One Easter morning, over ten years ago now, I walked to the market in my small town in Turkmenistan to buy vegetables and eggs. I think I had friends coming for dinner, Americans who would celebrate and commiserate together, and yet I was feeling lonely and sad and far from home. I remember it was a cool morning, but that it would get brutally hot before noon. Wandering among the stalls and tarps, I saw a woman sitting on a blanket on the ground, a selling a single jar of flowers in front of her. Lilacs.
I sank into a squat in front of the woman, put my nose in the flowers, and said “Where did those come from?” She was a Russian, she said, but had lived most of her life in Turkmenistan. She had brought the lilac plant from Russia, and had nurtured and pampered it through life in the desert. “I grow them because they remind me of home,” she said. Tears were running down my cheeks. “They remind me of home, too.” I bought all she had.
Lilacs for me are wrapped up in that longing for home. My parents grew a great hedge of them along the side of the house, and when they bloomed my mother would fill the house with them, and of course their scent. When I was a freshman in boarding school, desperately lonely and longing to fit it, my friend Katie brought me a bouquet of lilacs from her parents’ house just off campus. I cried then like I cried in Turkmenistan, the longing for home mixed with gratitude and love. As, I guess, it always is with lilacs for me – since the longing they provoke is for love, and home, and my unending gratitude that I have always (even when far from either) had both.
I grow lilacs now, and even though I am rooted in love and home the old longing grabs me every time the scent catches me unaware.