And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
I’ve kinda got a thing for dandelions. They play a strong supportive role in a poem I perform on a regular basis. They are a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, I remember picking mostly dandelions in batches of “wild flowers” for my mom. I remember my childhood babysitter, Cindy, sitting snugly in the base where our childhood willow tree seemed to spread out for days. She said she was a princess and challenged me and my brother to pick all of the dandelions of the field to adorn her with. We lived on 4 acres of land. We stayed busy for hours. And sometimes I wonder if teenage Cindy knew more about child-rearing than I know now.
On the other hand, I watched my dad try in vain to keep the dandelions out of our front lawn and the small parcel of land he farmed fruits and vegetables on.
So which is it? A cursed and predatory weed that takes over a farmer’s crop and increases my dad’s toil of the land? Or a flower that could make my mom and my first crush smile?
If I take the story – the whole story – as a metaphor for life, it is both. Before god said this ground is cursed, god instructed Adam to till the ground. Before god made a pronouncement about the tensions that exist between men and women, god said it is not good for a man to be alone. And before god said humans will labor by the sweat of their brow for their livelihood, god said the seed bearing plants and herbs were here for consumption.
Most of my life I have labored under the illusion that “work” was bad, or at least a necessary evil. I applied this to my years of customer service, my busting my ass in seminary, my short lived life as a pastor, and yes even to my writing life. ‘I knew only in part.’ And I eagerly anticipated the day that ‘I would know fully, even as I have been fully known.’ I was waiting for the streets of gold, where there would be no more burdensome working or learning or teaching. I eagerly awaited the day that the ‘grass would wither and the flowers fall, but the word of god would endure forever.’
Last night, after performing my poem that is in part about dandelions, a young lady, a percussionist from a band I had just heard for the first time, came up to me and told me my poem made her cry. She gave me a computer print out with pages of her own poetry. It was opened to page 5, containing a poem about dandelions. The final stanza read,
You will blow on wishes grown on stems
and they will always travel farther than you think,
Finding homes in places you never would expect.
It seems the wind has scattered my seeds everywhere: I have made meaningful connections with Baby Boomers, other Gen Xers, and Millennials; Christians, Muslims, Hindus, atheists and agnostics; other former pastors from Chicago to the back woods of Canada; in seminary and in online forums for skeptics; in churches, bars and coffee shops.
I have learned that happiness, friendships, love and even life itself are all fleeting. Sometimes we need to know when to tend to these things better. But sometimes when you least expect it and most need it, the wind scatters the seeds you need into your life to grow. Maybe it has always been up to us to determine flower or weed, ‘wheat or tare.’ Maybe across the span of a lifetime, that is vastly larger than my dad’s 4 acre piece of land (yet still a blip on the map of time and space) different people, places, and things can be both. Maybe sometimes they can even be both at once. Maybe the work of my hands, whether writing a poem, changing a battery, shaking a hand, penning a sermon, selling diet coke to soccer moms or selling products over the phone is not without meaning. One day my ashes – I hope – will be scattered like the dandelion. I will return to the dust from which I came.
Maybe I am home.