Down to Earth

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Recently, a friend of mine who is a psychologist at a treatment
facility for juveniles asked me to speak about being a writer for
the facility’s career day. The facility accepts 6- to 17-year-old
kids who have been abused, most often sexually.

I went prepared to present some examples of my books; thoughts
on how one’s life choices matter; ideas on how when you are young,
you can do or be anything you choose if you only have the
information to help you choose. I also took along a few herb
clippings from my garden, tucked away at the bottom of my box, just
in case I fell flat with everything else.

My first group included nine boys, ranging from 13 to 16. They
had heard all of the life choice stories before, having been in
counseling for many months. One boy folded himself up in his chair
with his knees drawn up to his chin, pulled his T-shirt over his
head and proceeded to doze off. Another put his head down on his
desk; another was drawing.

There were two boys, about 14, sitting with their chins on the
desk where I was speaking. When I took a breath’s pause from a
story I was telling, one of them reached into my little box and
pointed at the rosemary sprig and said, “So why did you bring

Before I could answer, he said, “My grandma grows rosemary. We
use it to cook with. Can I touch it? I like the smell.”

I handed him the rosemary and he inhaled the fragrance. “Taste
it,” I said. “You probably will remember what it tastes like.”

From the back of the room, the kid drawing said, “You can
actually EAT that? Gimmie. I want to taste it, too!”

“What else is in your box?” someone said across the room.

Within seconds, the tide had turned. I laid out the herbs I’d
brought: rosemary, mint, lavender, thyme and basil. Immediately one
of the boys said his mother grew mint. Another said his mother
always put some lavender under his pillow so he could sleep. I
pulled out the dream pillows I’d brought and one of the boys
immediately understood how to use them to help ease restless sleep.
The room was fully awake, every boy was asking questions.

Somehow, I’d missed the obvious connection between having been
abused, being in that treatment center and not being able to sleep.
I thought back to when I was 14 and had been molested by a teacher
I trusted, and how much difficulty I’d had sleeping. I remembered
the nightmares, the fear, the inability to tell anyone, and the
lack of power to confront the teacher. Yes, back then a dream
pillow that quieted my nightmares would have been profoundly
helpful. So I switched gears, and gave a shortened version of the
dream pillow program I often give to adults.

The kids responded. They all had sleep problems; they all wanted
a dream pillow. I promised I would find a way to get them a dream
pillow. For my next session in the afternoon, I gave only a brief
nod to the career subject and concentrated instead on herbs and
dream pillows. The second group of boys all responded as
enthusiastically as the first. The counselors who sat in on the
sessions seemed impressed and encouraged me to come back and talk
to the kids in a longer session.

When I returned to present the dream pillow program, I took
along the herbs and made dream pillows. The boys chose between a
pillow that would ease their nightmares and give them a good
night’s sleep, and one that would encourage dreams and remembering
the dream. One of the boys who’d been in my earlier short class had
used a pillow that prevents nightmares. He was satisfied that the
nightmares had disappeared and asked if he could now have one that
let him remember his dreams, as he was sleeping much better.

The usefulness of herbs for people in crisis never ceases to
amaze me. Sometimes I’m caught off guard, surprised by how far
reaching these fascinating plants can be. Who would have imagined
that a group of abused teenage boys would respond so excitedly and
warmly to a box of assorted herbs? Once again, I’m moved and
inspired by herbs’ profound ability to soothe and heal.

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