The Agapanthus praecox or blue lily has beautiful names in some indigenous languages of South Africa: bloulelie, haaklelie (hook lily), keiserskroon (ceasars crown), agapant(Afr.); isicakathi (Xhosa) and ubani (Zulu). Agapanthus is derived from the Greek agapé, love, and anthos, flower.

The Greeks have six words for love.

  • Eros, or sexual passion.
  • Philia, or deep friendship.
  • Ludus, or playful love.
  • Agape, or love for everyone.
  • Pragma, or longstanding love.
  • Philautia, or love of the self.

Agape love is radical. It is love for all. In Latin agape is translated to caritas – charity. I liken agape to empathy, ubuntu (I am because you are) and ‘I see you’ – what we need most in this in-between time. A time where normal lies behind us, and a future time ahead where we don’t know what normal will look like. A time where platitudes like ‘We have experienced much and we will survive this too,’ ‘Hope springs eternal,’ ‘This too shall pass, ‘ does not pass muster anymore.

We need to see and feel for each other. Understand we are all unique, all beloved, all given the same breath. I have always held the firm belief that understanding another person and their circumstances, you truly need to see the white of their eyes. True care, empathy and support is not possible from a distance.

Ironic that we now have to wear masks, and only rely on looking each other in the eye to gauge a mood and to communicate. Are we softer toward one another? Do we care more? I fear not. The world and many of its people remain hard of heart. Look at the wars waged by keyboard warriors on the various media platforms. We find ourselves engaged in a virtual world, losing touch with closeness. Distance dehumanising us. What a wake-up call.

I am summarily renaming the agapanthus, empathy lilies. A flower to remind me to never stop trying my best to care, to love, to make a difference. They are considered magical and medicinal here in my motherland. A plant of fertility for the Xhosa, a charm for love, a spell to ward off fear of thunder, can assist hikers with sore feet, or help as a bandage. Visit the SANBI website for a great article on this indigenous South African plant.

I took these photos in November 2014. A beautiful, rain-filled summer. How far away it seems. So much has changed. My gift to my family and friends was a photo journal I made of the hundreds of Agapanthus growing joyfully abundant in the garden of Farm Waterval.

This awful in-between we find ourselves in compels one to look back and remember times of wonderment, joy and gratitude and find some solace there. Share those memories, show we care.

May the empathy lily photo journal bring enjoyment, as it still does me. Lots of love and care.