Vanessa struggled within her sheets, the comfort of which she had worshiped for years, but now tossed her about like a tiny vessel upon the hostile waters of the great deep. Every ripple in the silken pool jarred her eyes open to the blackness around her. Her mind raced with worries, thorns in her sides that kept her awake while others snuggled dreamily without care or bother. Resentment began taking hold of her, a ruthless robber of peacefulness and contentment, especially when allowed to brood during the wakeless hours of the night.
She rolled onto her back and sighed, staring up at the nearly imperceptible ceiling looming above her like faint clouds over the bustle of a dark and restless sea. A solitary glowing star drew her attention. She had forgotten about that star, which her father had stuck up there when she was younger to remind her that she was a unique brightness upon the horizon. As she examined it closely, her father’s deep baritone voice pierced the silence of her mind, and she smiled briefly with the pleasant memory, but she was not in the mood to be comforted. She shook her father from her thoughts but could not avert her gaze from the tiny beacon above, a point of comfort for many years of her life.
As the seconds morphed into minutes and folded into hours, dreariness tugged at her eyelids, desperate to prevail. Struggling against the heaviness, she cocked her head as the ceiling appeared to move. At first she denied the illusion, but the speed increased, and the ceiling flowed swiftly past the star like cumulus clouds on a wind swept evening. A soft cool breeze whispered across her face poking out from under her covers, causing a chill to rush through her body. As the hypnosis took root, she drifted along the wind into a deepness that enveloped her like a velveteen bath.
She was startled by the deep sound of a man clearing his throat. When she opened her eyes, she spotted an old man huddled over a drawing desk, face scrunched in deep concentration, fully immersed in his art. His desk sat in the middle of a flower garden, which was a strange place for a desk she thought, but, as she examined it more closely, it seemed to have grown out of the ground like a shrub and, therefore, was not out of place at all. She took a deep breath of sweet-smelling air that filled her with inexplicable calmness and peace.
As the man drew wispy lines on a large pad of paper, something appeared and changed in his hand. He would wince from time to time when the change did not please him and chuckle when it did. He looked like a stranger but felt like a father to Vanessa. She was not afraid, though she knew not who he was. She took a few steps closer so that she could see what he held in his hand.
To her surprise, he was holding a solitary flower bloom, the yellowness exploding like the sun in his hand such that she had difficulty maintaining it within her sight. He scribbled more on his pad, and the flower changed and softened until it became what she recognized as an ordinary dandelion. He reclined back in his seat and smiled, satisfied with his work.
Vanessa’s movement caught his attention, and he turned toward her with an inviting grin. “Come on! Come on!” he exclaimed, motioning her over. “You haven’t seen the best part yet.”
Vanessa approached the drawing desk reverently, and the man’s eyes were filled with an unspeakable joy, happy lines wrinkling his cheeks and infecting her spirit. “I love this part,” he said in almost a whisper, mesmerized by the object nestled nourishingly between his fingers.
With the dandelion bloom in one hand, he took his pen in his other and scribbled on the paper an intricate design with strange symbols all about the margins, which appeared to Vanessa to be mathematical calculations. Suddenly, the dandelion bloom transfigured into a tall stalk with a fuzzy ball at the top, what she immediately recognized as dandelion seeds, the bane of her father’s existence as he tried every year to stamp the “vile weed” out of his yard. And there this old man sat at his drawing desk with one in his hand like it was an exquisite work of art, and at that moment it felt like such to Vanessa. She couldn’t breathe as she watched the flower in his hand, anxious for the joy that he promised would follow.
He gave her a wink and blew upon the fuzzy ball, sending the feathery seeds alight along his seemingly endless wind. They danced and bobbed about them and tickled their noses and ears, causing the man to belly laugh in enjoyment. Thousands of little white parachutes flitted before her like feathers upon an indecisive wind. She reached out her hand to touch them, and they shifted and swirled about her hands and fingers with elegance and ease. As the seeds settled along the ground, they sprouted into green shoots and then exploded into a shock of yellow that covered the ground like a plush carpet.
He leaned back smiling, dusted his hands, and proclaimed, “It is done.”
Vanessa laughed in return. What a pleasure to watch a man enjoying and in sync with his creation.
The old man swiveled his chair and looked up at her, now solemnly. “Take a seat my dear girl, for I have been waiting for you and have a story to tell.”
Without hesitation, Vanessa sat obediently on the ground, crossing her legs like she used to when she was a little girl in elementary school during reading time. They were transported from the majestic flower garden to the inside of a cozy cabin with a roaring fireplace chasing away the chilled air. The man’s desk chair transfigured into a squeaking rocking chair, much like her grandmother used to sit in while she knitted. He slowly rocked while he thumbed through an old leather book lying open in his lap. His face was troubled, but his eyes displayed wisdom.
As she sat at his feet, he read to her from the brittle pages with a deep, soothing voice, which comforted her:
Life is full of wonderful treasures—some that can be held in the hand, like the tiny granules of sand at the edge of the sea, and others that can only be dreamt, which lie just beyond the reach. The mysteries behind the blue skies capture imagination as the silver clouds above float like boats upon the beautiful sea. Souls soar to the heavens to board the sailing vessels, casting fears and troubles to the waves below. Sand must be dug from the eyes to captain the ships toward dreams. But restlessness, worry and greed guard the paths, rocky graves for ships’ death. A wise captain studies the map at his side, steers clear of the dangers that await and returns his ship to harbor, weathered but safe. . . .
Vanessa was shaken awake by the unholy buzz of her alarm clock, the bane of her existence. Silencing the obnoxious interruption, she lay back and looked up again at the star, now brightly lit by the morning sun blazing through the shutters. She reflected longingly on her dream, although it felt very real to her, and wished she could return to it. She was not ready for his story to end and felt like he had only just begun. She smiled at the memory of the old man’s joy over the simple dandelion and wondered how one could get so much enjoyment out of an ordinary weed, and yet she was drawn into the beauty and merriment. Not likely would she ever look at a dandelion again as just a weed. She would always remember the man’s joyous smile and laughter as he rejoiced in it.
She rolled out of bed reluctantly, stepped over piles of books, and meandered her way to the bathroom. She gazed into the mirror and half-heartedly primped her unruly dishwater-brown hair, which hung down unsatisfactorily just below her shoulders. What’s the point? she thought. No boy will ever look twice at me. She wrinkled her nose and examined the many freckles covering her face. Instead of tanning, like the popular girls, she freckled. And her pale white skin was quickly losing the battle to the hoard of invading freckles. Why, her skin was hardly even putting up a fight, which annoyed her greatly.
Just as she was leaving the mirror, she caught a glimpse of something in her hair. Plucking it free, she examined the white dandelion seed clutched between her fingers, and her stomach lurched. What a strange coincidence, she thought. She held up the seed, blew it into the air, and watched it fall to the ground. If it sprouted then and there, she decided she would make a spectacle of herself and flee the house screaming and waving her arms about. Yes, it would not go unnoticed. When it remained predictably lifeless upon the floor, she stepped over it and into her bedroom.
She slid on a pair of worn blue jeans and a bright purple shirt and traipsed down the stairs to breakfast. Both of her parents worked, which she admired, but, consequently, mornings were reduced to mad dashing around and not much conversation. Mostly “Pop-Tarts are in the pantry, dear,” and “Do you mind helping yourself, dear?” and “I am hopelessly late, dear,” and “Where’s my polka dot tie, dear?” and many other impersonalities ending in “dear,” because anyone knows that anything ending in “dear” masks the reality that one is really more concerned about oneself than about the “dear.” That particular morning there was an unusually high number of “dears,” which did little to lift Vanessa’s spirit.
As she munched her raspberry-filled Pop-Tart, she became anxious once again about her life–boys, money, grades, friends, just about anything she could think of. She thought she would never have a boyfriend. She just wasn’t pretty enough. There were so many material things she wanted, but her parents refused to buy them for her–“Too many kids, dear. Too many kids.” Well then why did you have so many kids, dear? she thought to herself. Her grades weren’t what she wanted them to be. She wasn’t beautiful or popular like she wanted to be. Oh, bother, it was all just a big mess!
After finishing her breakfast and brushing her teeth, she returned to her room and grabbed her book bag lying on the floor beside her bed. As she pulled the bag, it jarred the bedside table, causing a book to fall to the ground. She picked it up and discovered that it was the Bible, which she had not read in quite a long time, and she could not remember how it ended up in the prime location of her bedside table, which was typically reserved for her favorite books and for those she was in the middle of reading. She glanced at the page it fell open to, and her heart raced as she read:
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Vanessa closed the book softly and laid it on her bedside table. She sat for a moment on the edge of her bed in deep contemplation, pondering the text and reflecting on her vivid night’s dream. Was this what the old man was telling her? Not to worry, toil or spin? That he was hunched over his desk with writing pencil in hand? That he winced and chuckled at his desk while designing her? That she was more valuable to him than that ordinary dandelion in which he found such tremendous joy?
She wiped a gentle tear from her eye, grabbed her book bag and exited her room with lifted spirit. Opening her front door, she took a deep breath, smiled and walked out into the yard full of beautiful dandelions basking in the dawning sun.