What do you think about this picture? Do you look at it and feel something? It’s unlikely you will say yes. This picture doesn’t seem to represent much. A scrubby looking pink plant growing out of dirt and green leaves… it is simple, unremarkable. But to me, this picture means a lot.
To explain, I must take you back to a summery Sunday evening in August. I was sitting by the edge of the canal, bare legs dangling, enjoying a moment to myself. The breeze tickled my arms as I watched people walk along the other side of the water, sharing stories and holding hands. The canal snaked in to the distance, the veins of the city, glassy brown and picture perfect. It was that lovely time of day, when the sunlight begins to soften and you can see the afternoon gradually dissolve in front of your eyes. I was in a state of complete-calm, almost meditative - just absorbing the serenity of that moment.
When suddenly, behind me, a woman appeared out of the bushes speaking thick and fast in a German accent I could barely understand. She would have been in her fifties, with silvery hair cut short like a boy. She was petite but athletic looking with strong arms that carried a big, wicker basket. She asked me to move out of the way. I was taken aback - why did I have to move? Of all the space along the banks of the canal, why did she insist on sitting here, in my spot?!
Not in the mood for an argument, I made room and she set down her basket and rolled up her jeans. I turned away and tried to get back in to the moment. After fussing around in the dirt for a while, I noticed she became silent - completely still and quiet as a stone. It made me curious and eventually we struck up a conversation.
Her name was Lena, and she was the sweetest German woman I have ever met. She was a struggling art teacher, a free spirit who called Kreuzberg home for the last 20 years. Pottery was her thing and apparently her house was filled with all kinds of pots and ornaments that she had made with passionate hands. Every week she came to this exact spot on the canal to pay respects to her dearly departed father, who died a year ago. It is not common for Germans to give away so much so soon, but she seemed comfortable with our random connection and spoke freely with me. Her father had been her rock and mentor, and she felt his death had come too quickly. As a tribute to him, she placed a small flowering plant in the earth next to the canal, right at the spot where they had once sat. She explained how she came down every week to water and care for the plant. She said as long as the plant was there, it made her feel like a little piece of him was still alive.
I was moved by her dedication, and asked how she tended it in winter. She did what she could but of course when the snow came it was impossible to maintain. During the colder months she would still make her weekly pilgrimage to the spot, but instead of caring for the plant she would sit in silence and remember. And when Spring finally dawned and the earth began to warm again, she would pick up her gardening duties and continue the ritual, her little way of keeping her fathers memory alive.
How admirable this woman was, her intention so pure.
She was fascinated to hear I was from Australia. Her dream was to go to New Zealand, but she never seemed to have the money or the time. I suggested she move there - go for a year or something. She nodded excitedly and told me it was on her to-do list. I told her about some of the things I wanted to achieve in Berlin and after listening carefully she proposed we give ourselves one years deadline to achieve our dreams. She said that life could take unexpected turns and was “too short to waste”.
Upon parting, I told her I truly hoped she would make it to New Zealand within the year. She smiled gratefully, wished me luck on my journey and went on her way.
After she left, I looked at that sad, sweet little plant for a long time. I had just been reminded of the fleeting beauty of life and for that moment the world seemed like a richer place.
I took this photo to record the memory, and hold on to the little lesson that the plant represents.