Someone post this at other group I am in. I thought it is very amazing story, wanting that I share it here.
Sitting Downind from Flowers,
By Linda Ross Swanson
A few years ago, Seattle, Washington, a 52-year-old Tibetan refugee named
Tenzin was diagnosed with one of the more curable forms of lymphoma.
After the first chemotherapy treatment, Tenzin, usually a gentle man, ripped
the IV from his arm. He argued with everyone who came near, even shouting at
In speaking with Tenzin's wife, the staff learned that he had been a
political prisoner, held and tortured by the Chinese for more than 17 years.
She said that the hospital's rules and regulations, coupled with the
chemotherapy treatments, gave Tenzin horrible flashbacks of what he had endured.
In conducting research about former prisoners of war who are later admitted
into hospitals to receive treatment for diseases, I discovered that for some,
the mere architecture of the hospital brings on painful memories.
By design, the structure hinders opportunities to form a patient community,
to interact with others in similar situations. Such patients often feel lonely
Identification bracelets seem to take away their rights, announcing that they
are now hospital property. Stripped of their clothing, they suffer
humiliation and torture by technicians who, unaware of their prison history or current
feelings, painfully seek out veins and antagonize them further with tests and
In Tenzin's case, one treatment was enough for him to flee.
"I know you mean well, but your treatments are causing my husband to feel the
same hatred he felt toward the Chinese. He would rather die than have to live
with these feelings. He needs to be able to pray and cleanse his heart."
Taking her advice, the doctors discharged Tenzin and asked the hospice team
to visit him in his home. Marsha, a palliative care consultant was assigned to
his care. She called the local office of Amnesty International for advice.
"This man has lost his trust in humanity and feels hope is impossible. If you
are going to help him, you must find a way to give him hope."
When Marsha suggested talking things over, Tenzin held up his hand and
stopped her. He said, "If I am to heal my soul, I must learn to love again. Your job
is not to ask me questions. Your job is to teach me to love again."
Marsha took a deep breath, and asked, "How can I do that?"
"Sit down. Drink my tea and eat my cookies."
Tibetan tea is strong black tea laced with yak butter and salt. It isn't easy
to drink! But Marsha did as he asked.
On visits for the next few weeks, Marsha sat with Tenzin and his wife and
learned to drink the peculiar tea.
At the hospital, she consulted with doctors to find ways to treat his
physical pain. But after her visits, she noticed that it was his SPIRTUAL
pain that lessened.
As time went by, Marsha found Tenzin sitting cross-legged on his bed reciting
prayers from his books. Then he and his wife began hanging more and more
colorful "thankas" - Tibetan Buddhist banners, on the walls.
The room fast became a beautiful, religious shrine. Tenzin aligned himself
with God, and Marsha learned to listen without talking or responding-the pure
attending to another human being.
Springtime arrived and Marsha asked him how people in Tibet heal from illness
He said, "They sit downwind from flowers."
She thought he spoke poetically, but his comment was literal. They sit
downwind from flowers so they can be dusted with the new blossoms' pollen. For them,
this is strong medicine.
Wanting to help Tenzin, Marsha searched for flower blossoms; however, finding
enough of them seemed daunting. One of her friends suggested that she call a
flower nursery and explain the situation. She persisted until she found one
that was finally willing.
The following Saturday, she picked up Tenzin and his wife along with their
afternoon provisions: black tea, yak butter, salt, cups, cookies, prayer
beads and prayer books. She dropped them off at the nursery.
While curious employees watched, the couple wandered from one area to another
until they found just the right place, then they sat down and enjoyed their
The following weekend, Tenzin and his wife visited a different nursery.
Soon nursery owners all over town were calling Marsha vying for the Tibetan's
presence. One of them said, "We've got a new shipment of nicotiana coming in
and some wonderful fuchsias as well as great daphne! I know they'll love the
scent of daphne!"
Another called and said that they had colorful windsocks that would help
Tenzin predict the direction of the wind.
So during the week, the couple sat downwind from flowers at nurseries all
over Seattle. Chairs were placed to match the direction of the wind, and
fresh hot water was provided for the couple's tea. Some of the regular
customers started parking their wagons of plants and flowers near the two Tibetans.
A community grew around Tenzin and his wife. The activity, or non-activity,
of sitting downwind from flowers and drinking tea caught on.
At summer's end, Tenzin returned to his doctor for a follow-up CT scan. The
test revealed no evidence of cancer! Dumbfounded, the doctor told Tenzin that
he didn't know how this had happened.
Tenzin lifted his finger and said, "I know why the cancer has left. It can't
live in a body filled with love. When I began to feel all the compassion
from the hospice team, from the nursery employees, and all of the people who
wanted to know about me, I began to change inside. I feel fortunate to have
had the opportunity to heal in this way. Doctor, please don't think that your
medicine is the only way to cure."
That spring a transformation took place in Seattle-not just for Tenzin-but
for everyone who dared to sit downwind from flowers.
Linda Ross Swanson is a free-lance writer in Portland, Oregon. Her work has
been published in magazines, newspapers and anthologies all over the U.S. and
Canada. She is also a respite care hospice volunteer and seminar presenter for
two hospital systems in Portland, Oregon. Lee Paton related this true story at
a hospice memorial event. The names have been changed in the story. She can
be reached at Linswnsn@aol.com