Once upon a time… a robin picked a single seed from a great and glorious sunflower. Being as birds are, the creature took flight, flapping its wings and cutting through the air with ease. But another bird, a hawk, began to chase him, and in his fear the robin dropped the seed to the ground. The seed landed far, far away, in a strange place with a lot of grass and weeds, but no flowers.
However, this was a very strong seed, and it fought back against the grasses and the weeds and eventually grew into a little sprout. One day, a farmer came and pulled up some of the nearby weeds and began tilling up the dirt, and soon the little sunflower found himself sitting on the edge of a pretty little vegetable garden.
“Oh boy,” thought the sunflower, “I’ll have all sorts of new friends to talk to and play with! Those weeds were awfully rude customers, I must say.”
But unfortunately, things did not go much better once his new neighbors began to sprout. They were green beans, with tender shoots, and every day they would make fun of the sunflower. they would make fun of his broad, flat leaves, because their leaves were still small. They would make fun of his thick, wide stem, because their stems were still thin and pliable. But then, one day, something happened that they couldn’t make fun of. On one particularly glorious morning, the sunflower woke up to find he had bloomed.
“We hate it!” said the beans, “it’s too big and bright! It makes our flowers look small and silly! You don’t belong here; you should leave!”
“Why don’t I belong here?” the sunflower asked, shocked.
“Well…” the beans thought about it for a moment, “you aren’t a vegetable, like us! We make food that feeds people, you’re just a big, yellow eyesore!”
“But, people can roast and eat sunflower seeds,” the sunflower said plainly, “I hear it is quite popular with baseball players.”
“Then go find some baseball players!” the beans shouted back, “and leave us alone!”
They continued to pick on the sunflower for days and days, particularly as the sunflower started to grow taller and brighter, and the beans began to get broad, flat leaves and thick, wide stems. The beans would throw the shade of their leaves on him, hoping it would keep him from growing, but it was no use: the little sunflower just kept getting taller and taller.
“Maybe,” one of the beans suggested, “maybe, if we all act like we’re dying, the farmer will think it’s HIS fault and come out here and pull him out of the ground!”
“Yes, yes,” said the rest of the beans, “that’s a great idea!”
But they never got a chance to try out their plan, because the sunflower overheard them scheming. Beans are very loud vegetables, after all. The sunflower sighed a heavy sigh, and remarked to himself:
“I don’t want to fight, and I don’t want to make people angry. I can’t help it if I’m tall and bright and yellow… but I don’t want to get pulled out of the ground!”
And so, the sunflower did something exceptional, that no other flower had ever done before.
One night, while the beans were asleep, he placed his leaves on the ground next to him. He pushed with all of his might and, amazingly, he managed to pull himself out of the ground and onto his roots. Without looking back, the sunflower ran on his roots as far as he could before he started to wilt.
He knew he needed soil, and he knew he needed water, and fast… this looked like as good a spot as any. So, he plopped himself down and waiting for the sun to come up, and when it did, he found himself in a wondrous green glade in the middle of a beautiful forest.
“Oh, my,” the sunflower said, “this place is beautiful! I could stay here forever, and look! New friends!”
All around him, wildflowers were just waking to greet the morning. They were not arranged at all, not like those garden beans. They were all shapes and sizes, all colors, all combined into one big beautiful mess. Out of what seemed like chaos came beauty, and the little sunflower was right in the middle of it, his roots sinking nicely into the loamy, mossy undergrowth.
“Good morning, friends” the sunflower said happily, “this is such a wonderful place to live!”
“Indeed it is, and we welcome you here, tall stranger,” said a wizened old dandelion, “The soil is rich, and the rainfall is plenty. There’s enough food for us all to share and live together in harmony!”
And for a while, life was good for the sunflower. Until one day, an artist stumbled upon the sylvan glade, and he was struck by the beauty of the scene: a lone sunflower, tall and proud, even taller than before, surrounded by wildflowers of every color.
“How poetic!” the artist said, “I must paint it!”
He painted the scene, all bathed in golden sunlight, with the sunflower at the center. He trod on some of the wildflowers as he was painting, and he even pulled a few from the ground to make his painting more perfect! As soon as the painter left, the wildflowers turned to the sunflower, seething.
“How dare you!” they cried, “He plucked the old dandelion! He stepped on the pansies! He crushed the columbines! It’s all your fault!”
“How can it be my fault?” the sunflower asked, confused, “I was just standing here!”
“It is because you are so tall and so bright!” a cornflower complained, “the artist would never have thought we were special enough to paint if YOU hadn’t been here?”
“But I thought you liked being a special, beautiful place?” the sunflower asked.
“Not this much! You’re doing too much!” the wildflowers screamed back.
“But… but…” the sunflower stammered, “I thought we were all living together in harmony. I thought everyone was free to be themselves here… I thought we could all get along…”
“No, we can’t, and it’s your fault!”
“What did I do?” the sunflower replied, ready to weep.
“You were just… there! And you ruined everything!”
“By being you!”
“I can’t change…”
“Come on, everyone!” said a Johnny Jump-Up, “let’s get that vine at the glade’s edge to come in, and smother this monster!”
“The vine?!” the sunflower sputtered, “but we’ve been trying to keep him away, he’ll surely kill all of you, too!”
“We don’t care! Kill the sunflower!”
And again, the sunflower thrust his leaves into the loamy earth and pulled himself up, running off on his roots.
“They were going to kill me!” he sobbed, “and they were even going to kill themselves to do it! I couldn’t let that happen, not to such a beautiful glade…”
And again, he ran: out of the glade, out of the forest, and over to a nearby house. There, on the front porch, the sunflower spotted a pot of bright, beautiful flowers, just as bright and as beautiful as him, happily swaying in a gentle summer’s breeze.
“Oh, joy!” the sunflower cried, “these flowers will want to be my friends, I just know it!”
He crawled up into the pot and, with a lot of “excuse me’s” and “pardon me’s,” he found a spot among the flowers. He noticed his new friends didn’t say much, but maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. The sunflower noticed that when he talked to other plants, they tended to get upset with him. But these flowers… he couldn’t even get them to say hello.
“They seem a bit rude,” the sunflower thought to himself, “but maybe they’ve been yelled at and hurt, too, so they’re not going to be my friend until I earn their trust. Yes, that’s it, I’ll be the best friend ever, and we’ll all be happy in our little… flowerpot…. wait!”
He stopped, then, as his roots sank in, because there was something wrong with this soil. It felt scratchy, and unpleasant, made of little shreds of shiny things. The sunflower had never seen plastic before, but he knew he did not like it. He kept digging his roots deeper and deeper, but he couldn’t find any water anywhere. Then, finally, it hit him.
“All of you… you’re fake!”
The sunflower felt so embarrassed, talking to fake plants like that. He should have known better! Sadly, he pulled himself out of that nasty, scratchy plastic and continued to wander.
And he’s still wandering today, waiting for that perfect place to put down his roots. He’s even managed to add a few more sunflowers to his stem, and they make a happy family. But still, it seems everywhere they go, there’s someone who doesn’t want them there, so they keep wandering.
So, if you ever see just one sunflower plant, standing eight feet tall from constantly looking for another place, and all by itself, alone on one stem with its family… walk up to it and tell it that it will be all right, and someday it will find that perfect place.
And if you listen very closely, and if the sun and the wind are just right, you just might hear it whisper back, “thank you.”