A creek runs through the greenspace that borders our neighborhood, and it’s a good place to walk our two boxers. Part of the area is mowed and maintained regularly, while part is left to its own devices. With a cooler, wetter summer than we’ve had in a while, the wildflowers along our walking path have been spectacular. The dogs don’t much appreciate the color, but I think the flowers have added a lot to our walks. Also, I’ve had a good time going back and taking pictures after I drop off the furry kids. Lining up a shot while holding on to a couple of eighty pound beasts is tough going, no matter how well behaved they are.
One evening, while I was snapping a couple of shots, I wondered why we never see any of these flowers in the well-kept part of the greenspace, or in people’s yards. Some of them are really beautiful. Then I realized that somebody, at some point, decided they’re weeds, and they’re only pretty in a field or beside the road. Who does that? Who gets to say these plants get manicured with pruning shears while those get cut down with a weed whacker? Who decided that azaleas and hydrangeas get fertilizer, but the flowers in these pictures get Roundup? No doubt some of my gardener friends could (and probably will) give me a solid, logical explanation, but I probably won’t be convinced. How can the same plant be pretty in a field but ugly in the yard?
And it’s not just flowers. We do the same thing to people. Our society worships the status quo, and anything that threatens it gets the Roundup or the weed whacker. Exceptionally slow people, exceptionally creative people, exceptionally smart people can all be recognized for being unique, but only if they stay in their assigned places. Let one of them try to come on the lawn, and they’re suddenly an ugly weed that has to be eliminated. We might – gasp – even see bits of ourselves if we’re made to look at their weediness for any length of time. And for most, it’s too uncomfortable to see beyond the ugly stem, or the prickly spines, or the ragged leaves to find the bright flower curled up inside.
One of the things I love most about literature is its focus on the weeds of society. Jean Valjean, Hester Prynne, Jay Gatsby – all were weeds. Most of us would never spend the time or the effort to become friends with Quasimodo, or Silas Marner, or Ebeneezer Scrooge, but a good writer forces us to peel back the layers and discover what’s curled up inside, waiting to be recognized and to grow. We don’t always find a beautiful flower, but we expend the effort and take the risk of glimpsing ourselves in a character who would never be allowed to grow on the lawn.
If you’re a reader, who is a character you came to love or respect even though you wouldn’t have bothered to know them if they lived in your neighborhood or worked at your job? You can find the comment box by clicking on the title of this post.