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“How many times have you looked at a sunflower without really seeing it?” asked Marina.

Startled from the interruption of the conversation I was having with myself, I looked into Marina’s weathered face. A dichotomy of old age and youth exist simultaneously within her. Her face carries as many wrinkles as the sea amongst the tan, brown stretches of her skin. And yet, her eyes sparkle with an azure blue that was piercing every time you caught her gaze. Long, silver hair cascaded around her face as she cocked an eyebrow waiting for my response.

“I don’t know. I walk past them in the different shops, maybe glance at them, but rarely buy them,” I replied. Fidgeting with my jacket zipper and wanting to get back to my thoughts, I hoped this conversation would end quickly.

“My dear, that is not what I mean. Come now, how long have we known each other for now? Too long, and so I can tell when you are in need of, well—me,” Marina said as she sat beside me on the bench, placing her basket of sunflowers in her lap.

Of course, she was right, and I could begrudgingly admit it. Audibly sighing, I gave my thoughts a raincheck.

Taking a single sunflower from her basket, she raised it eye level. “Now, how many times have you looked at a sunflower without really seeing it? Most people look at the sunflowers and stop at the big, yellow flower. They admire the sunny color, the big flower, or maybe how pretty an arrangement of them are. But that is all they see.”

“Well, they wouldn’t be wrong, would they? I mean, a flower is meant to be admired,” I replied.

Nodding her head, Marina continued “Yes, a flower is meant to be admired. But sometimes you have to look at the whole flower to truly admire it. Turn the sunflower around. What do you see?”

Taking the sunflower from her, I said “A stem and the back of the flower.”

Clucking gently at me, she continued “Do you know what I see? I see a stem, solid and rippling with lean muscles that allows it to grow taller than any other. It does not allow itself to be in the shade of any other. It stands tall and proud, with a solid core that takes more than regular garden shears to cut down.”

She holds up another sunflower, “I see a stem that ends in a receptacle of strength, allowing this flower to pivot into the disposition of its own choosing. It chooses where it goes because it has an inner reserve of energy.”

Placing the sunflower back in the basket, she rests her hand on mine and gently squeezes. “You see, my dear, a sunflower without reserves of strength to make its own destiny and muscles to stand tall will not flourish. A sunflower should be admired for its true beauty—its strength. And to see that, only those few of us who are willing to look at the whole sunflower, and not just the pretty by-product--can find the meaning of true admiration and appreciation.”

Stunned into silence, I turn to look at her but find that she has vanished. A single sunflower lays beside me on the bench, face outstretched to the sun.

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