34: Becoming the Sunflower

34: Becoming the Sunflower

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Becoming the Sunflower

Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.

~Chinese Proverb

I was wandering in the floral section of the supermarket in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. I felt oddly out of place, like I was cutting school or doing something I shouldn’t be. Normally, I would be at my desk at work at this time on a weekday, but it had been months since I was laid off from my job. Normally, the heady fragrance and profusion of color would have made me happy. But this was not a normal day. I was upset and depressed that a pink slip was the thanks I got for my knowledge, loyalty, and dedication as an architectural computer draftsperson for the county school board for eight out of thirty years of my career. I felt like I had no purpose. No one needed my talents or me any longer.

Every day, I made a list of things I wanted to get done. I wanted to clean the house, organize my mountains of art supplies, and run all those errands I didn’t have time to do when I was working. I’d start those tasks, but before I could finish anything, I would either run around the living room crying loudly or curl up in a ball on the sofa in a gray mental haze and do nothing. I was so miserable that I totally ignored my husband, yelled at my kids, and pushed them all away. Months of wasted time went by in which I could have been doing something . . . anything.

Applying for jobs was frustrating. There were no openings for what I had been doing. I didn’t know what else I even wanted to do. I felt too tired to be interested in doing anything. I wished for something new to just plop into my lap and say, “Here you go; this is right for you.” But nothing did.

So there I was, in the floral aisle, fingering the velvety petals of an insanely bright yellow sunflower when these words suddenly popped into my mind. “Be a sunflower in the garden where you’re planted.” What did that mean? On the one hand, the sunflower was like that smiling yellow happy face logo you see everywhere . . . that have-a-nice-day cliché. I certainly wasn’t in the mood for that. I was too busy wallowing in my unemployment depression. But on the other, it was as though the blossom spoke to me and planted that message in my brain. Maybe I desperately needed it to.

I had been spinning my wheels agonizing about my income, but I think my pride was hurt worse than my pocketbook. I did get meager unemployment checks. And, thank goodness, I had a husband to keep a roof over my head. I was really grateful for that. Instead of wasting time and mental energy worrying about the bills, I realized I needed to just face the reality of it, cut non-critical expenses, and plan out the rest. When I visited my twenty-eight-year-old son at his home, I had watched him spend money on extravagances like vacations and new cars. It made me feel jealous and angry that he was so wasteful. But on reflection, I realize that we were in different circumstances and at different stages in life. He had a good, high-paying job. I had what he had when I was his age. There was no reason why he shouldn’t be enjoying his life since he could afford it. I had to learn to accept my new circumstances. There would be no more new clothes and dinners out for quite some time.

The thought about blooming where I was planted meant to me that I should make the most of what I had. It made me realize that while I did not have much money, I did have time. There were so many things I once enjoyed that I had put off or quit doing when I was working an eight-to-five job. I loved to draw and paint, but it had been years since I had time for them. I had a passion for writing, but I hadn’t had time for that in years either. I had taught myself to play the flute years ago too, but it had been gathering dust. I didn’t know if I even remembered how to play a tune anymore. I had teenage kids and housework that needed my attention.

It was time to become a sunflower and flourish where I was planted, in my forced retirement with the luxury of free time. I found a part-time job teaching reading, math, and art in a literacy program for low-income elementary school children at my county library. My new job is wonderfully fulfilling. It doesn’t pay all my bills, but it does bring me joy. My career is not back on track yet, but at least I feel needed again. I work four afternoons a week. Now I have time to be that sunflower.

I am writing again now and have even published a few things. That’s extremely satisfying. I put art lessons together for my students. I am on speaking terms with my husband again. And now, I feel good about helping my own kids with their schoolwork and interests. I even manage to squeak out a few tunes on my flute when the mood strikes me. Until a full-time job comes along, I love my spare time!

~Lisa Wojcik

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