Heliotrope

“Some people are so much sunshine to the square inch.”– Walt Whitman

I’ve never been afraid of starting over. I enjoy new experiences and have never had too much difficulty moving to a new place because I love being a part of the ebb and flow of life within a community’s boundaries.

Nearly seven years ago, my family had the opportunity to relocate to a beautiful region in the Pacific Northwest—and we jumped at the chance. It was the fulfillment of a dream, as we were finally able to purchase property and develop it as we saw fit.

We moved to the area during the summer, and those first few months were a whirlwind. There was so much work to be done, cleaning, repairing and upgrading the property, that we spent little time doing anything else. We were so busy with those things, in fact, that I never really gave a thought toward integrating into the community itself.

As it always does, summer came to an end, with fall transitioning quickly into winter. That year, I made a couple of discoveries. First, while the winter climate here is mostly temperate, it is also rainy. And gray. Relentlessly gray.

Second, I do not do well without the sun.

That winter was among the most difficult of my life. I injured myself. I got sicker than I’ve perhaps ever been. And I realized (too late, of course) that my failure to connect with my community meant I had absolutely no local resources outside those in my immediate home. And oh, my friends, was that ever a mistake. Because as much as we love those we hold dearest, there is still a need for external connections. None of us can be all things to everyone.

See, I had assumed (wrongly, it turns out) that because I’d moved so many times, I was up to the challenge of beginning over anywhere I pleased, with no safety net. I was independent. Resourceful.

Well, yes, sure. Except my resources were those communities themselves. I was largely adrift without them, and frankly, miserable. I began to wonder if we’d made a terrible mistake, moving to this new place. And that year, the rain started in November and continued straight through the end of April. Five solid months with no sunshine.

I learned that lesson of isolation the hard way, but I did learn it. When summer finally rolled around, I threw myself into playgroups, clubs and pretty much every activity I could find for myself and the kids (because we homeschooled, and those connections really are paramount). I made some acquaintances, but no strong connections… save one.

We get what I think are a limited number of truly providential connections in our lives, and the one I found that year ranks among the most significant. Here’s how I know: when winter rolled around that next year, life felt very different. The weather was still rainy and gray, but life itself held more light—and has continued to, regardless of the season, ever since.

This week, I came across a post about sunflowers and heliotropism, talking about how the flowers turn to follow the sun. It also suggested that if they could not find the sun, they face each other.

A little research tells me that this idea is a myth, but the very thought draws an analogy in my mind for our relationships with others. We can find the sun in so many different ways, but when it’s hard to find, it’s others that we turn to, to help us find the light.

That’s never been more important, in my opinion, than it has been this year. So many of our usual methods of interaction have been derailed; it’s been especially important to find alternate ways to turn to one another.

I love that people are finding ways to do that. Today I gifted another friend with a friendship ball. For those of you not familiar, the premise is that you fill the empty container with a small gift and pass it on as a special surprise for someone. (It need only be a token—you could even make the gift a personal note, which is so much more impactful than most of us realize.)

I loved it for her, because she’s set such an example for me by reaching out in personal and meaningful ways to others. We need to take the time to do these things, especially now, as the nuances of in-person interactions are so often missed due to social distancing.

We can’t be everywhere we want to be right now, but the light you provide can blaze amazingly bright in someone else’s life, just the same.

Shine on, my friends.

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