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  • Martha Engeman

What Can Dandelions Teach Us?

I have a mixed relationship with dandelions. I love their tenacity--growing in seemingly impossible cramped spaces--but have been trained over the years to see them as a weed. So when I see one, I both admire its chutzpah, and dread the weeding work ahead for me. Because any gardener will tell you, dandelions do not go gently into that good night. They keep growing and emerging well after you think you have pulled them up by the roots.

When I was about six years old and my brother was four and a half, we were given a mission by our Gammie to pick dandelions in her side yard. She presented us with a big paper grocery bag and told us to fill it with dandelions for the princely sum of 10 cents. Granted prices were lower then, but I quickly determined that 10 cents for a whole bag of dandelions was not a good deal. Nevertheless, you didn’t say “No” to Gammie, so out we trudged. I dutifully picked dandelions and my brother joyfully picked them and tossed them in the air until he got bored. I recall that we got about a half a bag before we gave up. It takes a lot of dandelions to fill a half of a big paper grocery bag. After that day, I decided to let dandelions in the yard be and just weed those that are in my plant beds or close to the house.

Part of me wants to cheer for the fully formed dandelion that I found in a small crack at the edge of a cement walkway and our house. All kinds of sayings come to me “bloom where you are planted”, “make the most of every situation”, “never, ever give up”. And part of me wants to say, “Just go away. You are making more work for me.” 

The dandelion reminds me of a concept that I play with a lot-- both/and. Instead of looking at the world in binary terms, like black and white or good and evil, I look for the shades of grey, for those places in the Venn diagram where things intersect. I can admire the dandelion and wish that it wasn’t growing in the crack in the cement. Both things are possible. 

When we stretch ourselves to hold what we may perceive as contradictory thoughts, our capacity to understand and have empathy with ourselves and each other increases. We widen our world view, allowing ourselves to experience more and challenging ourselves to grapple with seemingly contradictory thoughts and impulses. I believe that the solution to our increasing polarization is to start to play with the concept of both/and. When we do that, when we find the places where our concerns and beliefs intersect with those of someone with seemingly contradictory concerns and beliefs, connection happens. Connection is the beginning of healing.


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