It has been many years since I made a retreat with the late Father Anthony DiMello, S.J. As I grew accustomed to his Indian cadence and accent, I listened more carefully to his words and his stories. He loved telling stories and told them well. The one I remember best went something like this: A man seeded his lawn, watered it well and waited for a fine green carpet of grass. But when it grew, a fine sprinkling of dandelions grew up with it. The grass was green and lovely but the dandelions were not welcome and he used every weed killer he could find to get rid of them.
Nothing worked. Oh, they died alright, but soon they were back, and more than before. Again he applied the weed killer, and again and again. He grew very angry and went to the maharishi to ask his advice. “I have a lovely lawn,” he said, “but these awful dandelions are spoiling it. I try to get rid of them but I can’t. What should I do?”
The maharishi thought awhile and then asked the man, “Do you not like dandelions?” The man answered, “Well, I suppose they’re flowers but they’re also weeds. I don’t like weeds.” The maharishi thought some more; finally he said softly, “Learn to love your dandelions.”
How many times have I, and you too, probably, wished desperately for something in our surroundings, events in our world, conditions we can’t control or even our own conduct would just go away? Everything would be so nice, so peaceful if it weren’t for _____. But we can’t make it go away; often we can’t even change it a bit. It’s very frustrating and we torment ourselves with fruitless irritation.
What does it mean, to learn to love our “dandelions”? Perhaps we could “see” them in a different way, e.g. the flower, not the weed. Perhaps it’s our powerlessness or lack of success that’s really causing our distress. Maybe we’ve never really come to terms with accepting the things we cannot change. If we could look at life as we did when our cameras had lenses we could adjust—the viewfinder saw the same thing, but a little fine-tuning improved it.
I’ve heard that dandelions make a fine wine. I have never sampled it but I can accept the fact that ugly plants, ores and raw materials of many kinds can be the source of things quite wonderful. An oyster makes a fine stew (if you like oysters); a silkworm makes a lovely fabric. A pandemic has the potential to bring us to our knees only to rise again, fewer, older, wiser, more forgiving, more generous, more careful than we ever were before.