Helianthus

What I love about sunflowers is their lack of guile. Of course there is a measure of egotism and narcissism in that, because I also see myself as a creature that lacks guile. A cautious and distrustful mystery of a person may fall in love with a rose, and a diva may love a gardenia. But me, I love a sunflower.

It’s said that sunflowers are optimistic, and while that may be generally true, I don’t think it is necessarily their defining trait. The sunflower is a frank plant. It is straightforward about what it likes, and it wants that in great quantity. The sunflower goes to the buffet of life and fills every plate to the brim with its chosen food. It needs no invitation; it has a zesty indulgence of few wonderful things in large amounts.

Many flowers, like many people, require a great deal of coaxing to open. They go through life closely guarding their hearts, their desires, their dreams. They may wait their entire lives for someone to become intimate enough to ask if they’ve dreamed their entire life of becoming a sailor. They may, like Dickinson, die without ever having opened the contents of their secret heart. This isn’t beautiful or heroic. There is no afterlife; if you die and no one ever truly knew you, that is oblivion.

Worse than never opening is opening in secret. People indulge their secret desires in the dark and pretend their blood is very snow broth.

The sunflower loves the sun and it loves the spring warmth. It wants them constantly and it grows and grows, spreading bright yellow — or sometimes red — arms to the sky in a gesture of childish enthusiasm.

I plant sunflowers in my backyard every spring and as the sun spins through the air, higher and higher off of the horizon, I stretch and grow with my yellow compatriots. We thrive in the rising temperatures and the bright rays bouncing off our skin. We reach for the sky until the solstice and then we fold and bend and return to the Earth.

Me and my sunflowers are not creatures of restraint. We are not complicated or varied. We don’t get bored of the same pleasures. We do not pick and sample, we devour. I only love a few things in life and I take all I can get of them. I drink the summer sun and Shakespeare and a Richmond thunderstorm. Life is too short to pretend you don’t want the things you want. The sun goes down and you die and maybe no one ever knew you. Spread your arms with me this summer. Gorge yourself on everything you love. Grow big and tall, stretch and exalt in your life.