Dandelions

I grew up reading stories from a Jesuit, Indian priest name Anthony de Mello. He collected parables from religions all around the world, often punctuated with brief, poignant comments intended to drive the lesson home, or sometimes turn it on its head. One such little story was called “Dandelions”:

A man who took great pride in his lawn found himself with a large crop of dandelions. He tried every method he knew to destroy them. Still they plagued him. Finally he wrote the Department of Agriculture. He enumerated all the things he had tried and closed his letter with the question: “What shall I do now?” In due course the reply came: “We suggest you learn to love them.”

Out of all of de Mello’s tales, this one has stuck with me the most over the years. Its moral is easy on the surface: some things in life we can’t change, no matter how hard we try, so it’s best to learn to accept them. But as I have grown older, married, had a child, I’ve come to appreciate the subtleties of this parable.

Our lawns are such manufactured things: outlined by sidewalks, roads, driveways, and foundations, watered against drought, fertilized, mowed on a biweekly basis and governed laws enshrined in HOA codes, surrounded by only certain acceptable white picket fences. In them, we have civilized nature, tamed it, forced the frontier back where it belongs. Our little categories into which we shove the endless variation and continuous spectrum of life seem so simple and easy: yard, grass, weed, man, woman, married, single, love, friendship, straight, gay, sex.

Our lawns, like our lives, despite how hard we try to demarcate them, are a part of a breathing, seething biosphere, one that doesn’t fully answer to your yard work Saturdays, just as our legislature’s attempts to define this or that as an acceptable relationship among consenting adults doesn’t quite contain all that we humans might call love. Dandelions will never go away because they are part of us.

Anne and I don’t feel unfulfilled in our marriage, and quite honestly, things with Julian have slowed down these last couple months for a variety of reasons (you’ll have to wait to hear from them as to why — it’s not my story to tell). But that doesn’t change the fact that we each have dandelions in our lives: those little parts of us that don’t quite fit here or there, that are averse to simple categorizations. We are part of that animal species which also happens to be social, to twist Aristotle’s words a bit.

Anytime something is divided into a this as opposed to a that, something is at stake, and some nuance is perhaps lost. Even if our marriage stays opened or closes back up, I am grateful for having rediscovered some of that nuance and admired some of those dandelions.

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