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The Sunflower Grove

Summer
It is hot, very hot, but a breeze presses gently against my chest and ruffles my hair. Papa, with his graying beard and twinkling eyes, reaches for my hand, and I take it. He leads me to the sunflower grove that is near our house. I have never paid much attention to it, just an empty lot filled with sunflowers and weeds, and I wonder what he finds of value here.
He hands me a disposable camera. "Go see the beauty," he says, and the corner of his lips turn upward, just barely, but enough that I notice. The skin by his eyes crinkles when he smiles. I smile tentatively in return. I go, hesitating slightly. I do not want to walk into a poison weed that might hurt me, or come across a deadly species of snake.
As I walk through the grove, it seems to me that there are a million sunflowers. Each has its appeal, but I never linger on one for long. There is something I am looking for. Something specific, though I don't know exactly what.
Finally, I see it. This sunflower is perfect. To me. Some of its petals are blemished, but that only makes it more real, more beautiful. Each blemish tells a story, and shows how much the flower has been through, how strong it is. It is surrounded with bees, buzzing their cheerful tunes. The bees know that it is the sweetest, and this makes me happy. It’s not often that something small and humble, yet so beautiful, is recognized over what first catches one’s eye. Though this particular sunflower is nowhere near as tall as the others, it is the brightest shade of yellow I have ever seen. I reach out slowly, sunlight dappling the back of my hand, and stroke one of its petals, wondering, wishing.
I take one picture of it.
Just one.
Then I leave, a sense of peace within me.
I have been reminded where true beauty lies.

Autumn
Papa takes me to once again to the sunflower grove. I still have my camera. It is empty, except for the one picture I took in the summer.
The same sunflowers are still growing here, though they are starting to edge with the faintest traces of brown. I take a deep breath of chilly air, and I sense that the sunflowers will not be here for much more time. I know that there is a time for everything – a time for beauty, a time for modesty, a time for pride, a time to be humble, a time for sunflowers, a time for snow. It is an endless cycle that keeps on going, through generations, through centuries. If the sunflowers were always in bloom, I wonder, would they seem so special? Thinking about this, I gently push aside some branches and come into a small clearing. I look for my sunflower, the one that I have captured on my camera. At first I can not find it, and then with dismay I realize that it has been consumed by weeds. The murderer is an ugly vine with many tangles and thorns, and yet it is more powerful than the sweetest flower. I want to scream. I want to cry. I want to rip up the vine from the ground. But I can't. I can't do anything. Thoughts swirl like a tornado in my head. So unfair, so unfair. Even the strong, the gentle, the humble, will be overcome if others do not help them. My sunflower didn’t have a chance; it couldn’t fight back. Why does it seem like evil always wins? Time passes, and eventually Papa comes to me and places his hand gently on my back. He doesn't speak, but he doesn't have to. I know that he knows what I am feeling.
I feel that I have been rooted to my spot for what seems like years. Slowly, Papa leads me away. I am grateful. I wonder why Papa has brought me here. Taking a closer look, there is much that is ugly among what is beautiful, and this is very disappointing to me. I place my camera back in my bag without taking a single picture.

Winter
I visit the grove on my own, one chilly winter day. The sunflowers are no longer here. I am not sad, nor happy - just empty of feeling. I knew it was coming, but I am still disappointed when I do not see their glorious yellows that seem to me like shards of fallen sun. I stick the toe of my boot into the inch-deep snow, digging at the frozen earth below. Suddenly, I notice something, something that puts a tiny spark of hope inside my heart. There is a bud, green with new-ness and early life, peeking tentatively out of the snow. I pull my breath in and release it in a small burst, smiling widely.
"There is always one," I think affectionately. "There is always one who uses their whole heart to try to accomplish things that most could never accomplish, and succeeds. There is always one who holds in their heart hope for the future, even when the circumstances seem impossible. Look at this one. What chances did it have of making it to the top of the ground? But here it is!"
A wave of pain washes over me, soaking every cell as I realize that this bud of hope, this new life, will surely not survive.
"Yes." I think bitterly. "There is always one who tries so hard to get to the top, achieves it with a humble victory, and realizes there is nothing there for them after all."
Fumbling for my camera, I realize with dismay that I have left it at home.
I walk away, tears pricking at my eyes. Am I the only one to think about these things? The only one that cares? I can tell myself that it is only a sunflower, but for me, the meaning goes deeper.
I don’t have a picture of my little bud, and soon I find myself wondering whether it was really there at all. Am I so desperate that I imagined hope?

Spring
This time, at the sunflower grove, I am a different person. New buds are poking up everywhere I look, and I feel happiness knowing that most of them will survive. Right now they look so fragile, so delicate, like a single breeze could blow them away in a burst of vivid green, and then there would be nothing.
But that does not happen. Instead, I skip between the growing flowers, their silky leaves brushing against my arms and tangling in my hair.
I marvel at how every bud is different. Some are fuzzy, some smooth. Some dark in color, some light. Some with curvy stems, some with straight. But all are beautiful.
I decide, then and there, that I will no longer dwell on the negative. I will focus on the positive. Looking back over the year, I would not change a thing. I realize the significance of a single sunflower, and start to recognize all the grove has taught me. I realize begrudgingly that even the ugly vine has a purpose – if it weren’t for the ugly weed that consumed my flower, I might not be who I am today.
I smile at Papa, silently thanking him for showing me the grove. He smiles back and nods almost imperceptibly as I take out my camera. Today I take pictures, hundreds, it seems, until the camera whirrs, telling me that it is full. I want to capture everything – the new buds, the bees, the flower petals poking out of fuzzy green leaves. I want to remember the grove's new beginning. It is then that I realize, as a golden sun shines down onto my hair like an angel's touch, that it is a new beginning of sorts for me, too.
I can’t wait to develop my pictures. I remember my first picture, my special sunflower. Though it was consumed by the vine, it will truly live forever, in my photo and in my mind. Smiling, Papa and I walk slowly home, savoring the fragrant scent of earth and flowers that fills our nose with every breath.
Finally, I can truly say that I am happy.



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