Do you wish to make the world a better (and more peaceful) place?
Joan Halifax, Abbot of Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, writes, “We can nurture peace by transforming our own lives…we must work actively for nonviolence toward all…[nurturing] deep and true dialogue with respect for and appreciation of differences…we all live under each other’s skin.”
Yes, along with inherited legacies, we do live “under each other’s skin.” The video of a brave Ukrainian woman confronting a heavily-armed Russian soldier on a street corner in Henychesk gave my skin chills. She asked what the soldier is doing in Ukraine. He replied, “We have exercises here.” She asked, “What kind of exercises?” and then with emotion, “What the #^&* are you doing on our land with all these guns?” She commanded the Russian soldier to take her sunflower seeds and put them in his pockets so that sunflowers will grow in the soil upon his death in Ukraine.
I am (belatedly) learning Ukrainian history. It includes sunflowers, a legacy symbol of peace for Ukraine. In June, 1996, Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons. Defense ministers from U.S., Russia, and Ukraine joined in planting sunflowers at Pervomaysk missile base. This is significant as Ukraine inherited the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal in the 1991 Soviet Union collapse.
The sunflower is Ukraine’s national flower, however sunflower history predates the country. Sunflowers were nurtured as a crop by indigenous tribes from 3000 BC. First Nation North Americans cultivated sunflowers in present-day Arizona/New Mexico to produce large flowerheads. It is possible that sunflowers were a staple domestic crop before corn! Besides milling sunflowers for flour to bake bread and cooking with sunflower oil, creative uses included turning plant pigments into “sunscreens” and clothing dyes.
Spanish sailors pocketed sunflower seeds for Europe where the seeds migrated to Russia and Ukraine. However, it was the Russian Orthodox Church that elevated sunflowers to prominence. The 18th century Church hierarchy banned foods made from a variety of oils for Lent. Sunflower oil somehow escaped this ban! The demand for sunyashniki, or sunflowers, blossomed into an important commodity. Ukraine and Russia supply 70% of the world’s sunflower oil exports. Sunflower oil ranks as the fourth most important oil crop in the world (after palm, soybean, and rapeseed oil). Who knew?
A legacy is about learning from the past while living in the present moment. A legacy of peace sometimes seems elusive, but there is peace as well as war in our past and present. A Greek proverb reminds, “A society grows great when old [women] and men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Who will be left in Ukraine to plant sunflowers for coming generations?
Who remembers the Ukrainian legacy of peace from 1996?
Gardeners unite. Let us plant sunflowers this spring.
Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:
62. What legacy of peace can you cherish?
63. How might you leave peace as an aspect of your own legacy?