HAPPY THANKSGIVING?

Dandelion image

I proudly mentioned to a few friends that I’d joined a gym here in Baton Rouge. Each morning around nine, I’d stroll about a mile and a half to where I could pump some iron. Today was different. I must tell you first, that to get to the gym, I wend my way across a couple of busy streets.

I cross over a little-used service road. Just beyond lies a grassy area about ten-feet wide. It, in turn, touches the heavily-traveled Southbound lanes of Airline Highway.

Pacing myself as I walk through the grass, I approach the highway. I see the stop light about a quarter mile North always keeping an eye out for a break in the traffic.. I take advantage of a lull and cross over into the wide median between the North and South-bound lanes.

The swale is about sixty-feet wide; a beautiful area, dipping down into a semi-valley before it, too, leads up to the opposing lanes.

Here we find massive oak trees, planted just far enough apart for each to enjoy its own space. The swale is kept clean and well-manicured, as is most of Louisiana’s highways.

Today was no different than any other. I had just finished a great workout, pushing myself though sore muscles from yesterday’s exercises. I’ve finally convinced myself to get back into a regular fitness routine.

On my way home, I passed the Taekwondo school, based in a warehouse across from the gym. I wander past a car wash and a trailer park, before once again coming upon a service road. Crossing it and its small grassy area, I’m now facing the North-bound traffic of Airline Blvd.

Timing has to be just right, with about ten seconds to jaywalk across, back to the swale. What a beautiful spot for roadside picnic tables, if parking zones were ever cut in. There’s plenty of room for kids to play under hose big oaks. There’s a soggy drainage ditch running through the lowest point, which I must jump across. It’s only about a foot wide at most, but the water saturates its banks. This makes the ditch considerably wider. I learned the hard way that it takes a pretty big leap to keep my tennis shoes dry.

For over forty years, my life had been devoted to raising kids and grandkids. As I walked, I was pondering my good fortune of being free to do whatever I wanted. Lost in thought, I walked as if I’d been programmed. I was surrounded by peace, despite the traffic noise.

Suddenly, my daydream was interrupted by a still, small voice, incredibly soft, almost inaudible. Somehow, it overtook the noisy scrapping of rubber on concrete before and behind me. I stopped, but saw no one nearby.

“Down here,” came the little voice again.

“What? Where?” I asked, searching vainly, but not finding another soul.

“I’m right here, behind you on the ground.”

I must be hallucinating. The only thing I could see in the grass was a yellow dandelion, swaying back and forth. There was nothing else! I still saw no one! Who could have drawn my attention? At this point, you’re going to think I’ve totally lost it. But I’m telling it just as it was. Just the facts.

Again, I looked to see if anyone was watching, playing a bizarre joke on me. Finding no one, I bent down to see what was up. This must be a joke, right? At first, the thought crossed my mind, “Okay, God, you’re playing a trick on me. What have I done to deserve this?” But, to tell the truth, I pride myself in having an open mind, so I decided to play along.

“Alright, now you have my attention,” I found myself muttering with tongue in cheek. I must admit I felt a little bit awkward, and a whole lot stupid. To alleviate the apparent insanity, I pretended to tie my shoe.

“I watched you walk by several times this past week. You look like a nice enough guy. I thought long and hard about asking you a serious question.”

“Oh, and what might that be?” I played along, as I continued to look for a voice-activated tape recorder.

“Are you acutely aware of all the things you have to be thankful for, during this time of year,” the dandelion asked, as I leaned a bit closer.

I was so entranced, watching her little petals move as she spoke that I almost didn’t hear the question. It looked as if she were smiling. Each of her little yellow petals lit up as she spoke. I noticed a few drops of dew still clinging to the tips of her over-sized leaves. As she spoke, the vibrations of her Southern accent caused one of those sun-lit diamonds to drip onto a waiting blade of grass. She seemed proud of the fact that she was a solitary dandelion. Just one flower. No friends. Not even a neighbor to keep her company.

Reading my thoughts, she quickly disclosed, “Oh, I don’t really need any company.  The other dandelions don’t like living here. The man from the highway department comes by too often to mow the grass. I survive because I’m short and I always see him coming, so I duck way down.

“But, occasionally, I do have friends who visit. One stops by almost daily. She calls herself Buzzy. She swings by to sip my nectar. And, about once a week, a few ants scurry up and down my stem to see what they can find. They laugh themselves silly because they know how much their little feet tickle my stem.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I queried, still feeling silly about talking to a weed.

“Well, kind sir, you see there are not many people who care about dandelions. We’re despised by so many people, especially those with beautiful, green lawns. It’s not our fault, though. We have no idea where our little white fluffy seeds will go, once they catch the wind. Mother Nature seems to know what she’s doing, but you humans always seem to mess up her best efforts. Come closer, sir. Take a really good look at me,” she implored.

Bending down on my knees and elbows, I took in all her radiance. Focusing only on her, it was easy to see that she really was a beautiful flower. Her green stem was the greenest ever. And she was distinctly separated from the color of the variegated blades of grass surrounding her. I could even see shadows between her petals, giving rise to ever richer yellows, almost golden in color.

She was very symmetrical, in that each long petal was separated by an equally bright, yet shorter petal. She was almost six inches tall, but there was an air of confidence about her that made her seem much taller.

“I am pretty, am I not?” She asked, sensing a touch of empathy in my eyes.

“Oh, yes, you are that.  And, more,” I confessed. I was speaking through my teeth, not allowing my lips to move. I didn’t want anyone who might be watching to call the guys with those belted, white jackets.

“I’ve been around many places,” she continued, “but I like it here best of all. A tiny part of me leaves now and then, floating away in the wind, but I always know where my seeds land. My soul goes with each fluff and my beauty goes everywhere that I am not.

“Rare is the human who hears me and takes the time to stop, just as you have done. There are those who are so deep into their own world that they have no time for others; especially a weed, however beautiful. That’s all the worse for them, for they have no idea what they’ve missed.”

“What have they missed?” I asked.

“Well, did you know that every dandelion, while we may appear to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, feels exactly like a gorgeous rose? Have you ever seen a big field of dandelions? It’s an awesome sight, you know. Have you ever looked at a neighbor’s lawn and thought about all those free, bright-yellow flowers? All things considered, I love being a dandelion.”

“Gee, I’ve never thought of it that way before,” I played along.

“You’re still skeptical, aren’t you?” She must have detected the smirk on my lips.

“Okay, you caught me,” I said. “But, come on, you are a flower and I’m human, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“Oh, that may be. But, stop and think for a moment. Have you ever felt like a dandelion? I mean, in the wrong place, at the wrong time? Has anyone ever despised you, wished you hadn’t been born, or wanted to tear you out by the roots? To throw you away?”

“Well, yes,” I confessed. “I was abused when I was a kid. Been married a couple of times to women who truly expected to be mistreated. I was made to feel like so much trash by those who swore to love me. In school, I always felt that I didn’t fit in with the right crowd. Too often, I would say or do the stupidest things and then wish I could pull myself out by the roots, to wither and die.”

“But, it’s getting better all the time, isn’t it?” she asked. “I mean, with age?”

“Oh yes. Sometimes, I think man is born backwards. We should be born with intelligence, skills, morals, and a forgiving temperament. And a definite plus—it would be able if we could afford to enjoy ourselves before our body gets too old and feeble. Then, as time goes by, we’d revert to being a slobbering idiot in diapers. Well, now that I think of it, we sort of do that in the end anyway, but you know what I mean.”

“Stay with me,” she urged. “Don’t go drifting off into dreamland on me. I’m most interested in what you are thankful for, now that your so-called Thanksgiving Day is close at hand.”

“Oh, that’s easy. I’m grateful for my kids, my friends, my health, and that I live in a free country,” I answered quickly.

“Gibberish! Just a pat answer! But, then, you’re only human,” she chided. “Let me tell you that for which I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the sunshine and the rain. For butterflies and the wind. I’m thankful for the sounds of frogs at eventide, and the music of distant church bells on a Sunday morning. I’m grateful that I can look up at the night sky and see the twinkling stars behind the moon’s reflection.

“I watch as days and nights pass quickly by, wondering if anyone ever sees what I see? What I hear? What I feel? I’m grateful that I can be just a single flower, radiating my love in all directions. That everyone who passes by will know that something wonderful just happened; even with those who don’t take the time to stop and listen to me.

“I’m truly thankful that I can make humans think, even if they don’t know how, so much of the time. That, unlike humans, I can live anywhere I want, without fear of political or social unrest. I’m most thankful I don’t have your problems,” she stated, definitively.

“Yeah, I know what you’re saying,” I acquiesced. “There is sure a lot of hate and distrust around, that’s a fact? Yes, I have wondered why people talk about celebrating Thanksgiving. Will they stop and say a small prayer that day? Do they honestly know what Thanksgiving is all about? Will they remember the outcasts who fled from tyranny, who survived their grueling voyage, the diseases, and the freezing weather? Will we remember all the brave men and women who, since those Revolutionary days, paid the ultimate price fighting for our freedoms?”

“Now, don’t get philosophical on me,” she interrupted. “You know as well as I do, that you’re only fantasizing. Chances are that only one in twenty will do anything close to what you mentioned. All I ask is that you take time to smell the dandelions. Stop for a few seconds and watch as little, white butterflies chase each other from flower to flower along your daily path. If you don’t see any, look for them. Go outside this evening, look up at the sky and find the Big Dipper, and the Evening Star. And, when you breathe in the fresh night air, be thankful you don’t smell gunpowder in it.”

“Is that what you’re grateful for?” I asked.

“Yes, pretty much so. Well, maybe one more thing. I’m really grateful that I live in a place where no one steps on me.”

“Thanks for the words of wisdom,” I said, rising to my feet and brushing the grass from my knees.

I began to walk away. I stopped, turned and walked back to the little flower and stepped on her.

Pulling herself together, she gasped, “Now, why did you do that?”

“That’s so you always remember to be grateful for so many other things that haven’t happened to you,” I cautioned. “Keep your eyes open and don’t trust anyone, especially humans. See you in a few days.”

“Yeah, right,” she said, preening herself. “Hopefully, by then, I’ll turn to seed and blow away!”

She mumbled a few other words, but none loud enough to hear.

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