Note: I originally wrote this short story for a literary contest about hirasol. Amazingly, I felt a strong and irresistible urge to create short stories, after writing The Hirasol Gardener. So, expect more short stories on my blog in the near future.
I’m an escapist.
Whenever life feels like an endless parade of problems, I find a way to escape it.
I travel to exotic lands, run marathons, nurture plants, go on cycling adventures, and hike steep mountains just to escape my crashing reality.
And, on this sunny, breezy and eerily quiet December weekend, I’ve decided to escape life again.
I’m a troubled soul, overwhelmed by the chaos and miseries of 2020.
Earlier this year, I had to give up on my dreams of working abroad because there was no one who could take care of my 1-year old daughter.
Then, the pandemic came, ravaging hundreds of cities worldwide with its brand of terror.
And, a few months ago, my wife suffered a tragic death while serving as a frontliner for our motherland.
What if the philosophers and wise men were wrong? Isn’t life supposed to be like a rollercoaster ride that’s full of ups and downs?
Why does 2020 seem like a never-ending barrage of tragedies, deaths, disasters and political problems? Wherever I go in 2020, chaos reigns.
I badly needed a breather, even just for a while. And, that’s why I’m here perched on a hilly area somewhere in the highlands of Cebu.
I’m enjoying the overlooking view of the bustling metropolis, from my vantage point.
It paints a peaceful picture of Cebu, although it’s a far cry from the truth.
Then, from the corner of my eye, I see a lone sunflower beaming with life and hope.
I hate sunflowers. I hate what it symbolizes.
It’s a symbol of optimism, happiness, loyalty, longevity, land love.
But, let’s be real. These things don’t apply to our reality.
We’re living in an overcast world where an atmosphere of fear, hatred and anxiety permeates the air. We’re doomed, hopeless and stuck in limbo.
And, this sunflower, like our modern Instagram-obsessed culture, has forced, candy-colored artificial cheerfulness.
All of a sudden, my heart is filled with anger, and I feel a yearning to pluck out this lone sunflower.
Just when I’m about to pull out this sunflower, I feel a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turn around, and see an old man in his mid 60s, gazing deeply at me with his round and compassionate hazel eyes.
“Hijo, what are you doing?”, ask the old man.
“I’m sorry, manong. Is this yours?”, I reply apologetically. “ I thought nobody owns this sunflower.”
“It’s okay, hijo. That’s not my sunflower. But, why would you ruin such a beautiful gift from nature?”
“Truthfully, I don’t like what the sunflower represents”, I reply, as I take a seat next to the sunflower. “The world is overflowing with real-life monsters, from politicians to street-level conmen. And, this sunflower, which symbolizes happiness and optimism, doesn’t belong to our world.”
“I see. But, the hirasol isn’t just a symbol of sunny and cheery days.”
“What’s a hirasol?”, I asked the old man.
What is a hirasol?
“It’s a Tagalog word for sunflower. And, the hirasol is also a beacon of hope and strength. Trust me, you can learn a lot by just observing this plant. It’s…somewhat a silver lining and a glimmer of hope”.
“Hope? Are you kidding me? Haven’t you heard the news and headlines, these days?”, I reply while turning my head to the old man. “I guess you don’t have a Twitter or a Facebook. But, still, you’ve likely heard of the terrible news shared by everyone today. There’s no hope for humanity. We have a first-class, one-way ticket to hell.”
“I know what’s going on with the world today, hijo. But like this hirasol, I only look on the bright side.”
“Right”, I reply with a hint of sarcasm.
“Every day, you open your social media accounts, and you’re bombarded with news of death, plague and corruption”, says the old man. “And, every time you read or watch this sensationalized pessimism, you start to believe that the world is rapidly descending into chaos and disaster”.
“But, the world isn’t as messed up as you think”, adds the old man. “As someone who has survived the Martial Law and a bunch of disastrous typhoons, the world is in a much better place, despite the pandemic.”
As cheesy as it sounds, I must say he’s right. The media nowadays thrives on these negative stories. Heck, they earn a fortune from every controversial piece they release online.
And, guess what? We reward them with likes, clicks, shares and attention. But, slowly, these news stories are distorting our thinking and even triggering mental health problems.
To me, it’s turning us into pessimists, full of range and angst.
And, here’s the thing. There’s also an invisible pandemic that’s far more sinister than Covid-19. And, that pandemic is called hate.
Why can’t we just be like the hirasol that always looks on the bright side? If we keep patronizing these news, we’ll eventually lose hope and our battle to the pandemic of hate.
“I guess that’s one of the perks of being a sunflower”, I say to the old man with a smile.
“Ohh, there’s so much more you can learn from a hirasol”, he says. “In fact, the hirasol also has a trait of a realist.”
“It’s not always sunny in the life of a hirasol”, says the old man. “There are rainy days and even starless nights. And, the hirasol knows that. But, instead of escaping its reality, it embraces the circumstance.”
“And, in the absence of light, it faces the east, anticipating the return of the sun”, adds the old man. “The hirasol knows that those dark and rainy days will soon pass. And, it knows that the sun will rise again in the east. As I’ve said, It’s a symbol of hope.”
Once again, manong is right. Unlike the sunflower, I didn’t face my problems. I tried to outrun it.
But, we can never escape the clutches of sadness, boredom and loneliness. No matter how far I travel, my problems will always haunt me. It’s a heavy piece of baggage that has been a burden to me wherever I go.
From now on, I’m going to be like a sunflower. I’ll embrace those rainy days and cloudless nights. And, I’ll patiently wait for the shades of gold to shine upon me.
And, there’s another thing that I learn from this manong’s hirasol analogy. I found out that life would be a terribly unremarkable existence if it’s a perpetual series of happy moments. I mean how can we recognize light without darkness?
And, how can we fully understand happiness without pain and sadness? Without pain, sadness and darkness, we have nothing to celebrate about, and all our joys and triumphs would be totally meaningless.
“Your words of wisdom are inspiring and heart-warming, manong”, I say to the old man. “But, can the hirasol tell me something about my profession as a public servant whose mission is to serve and protect? Can it shed some light and tell me if I should quit the force?”
“Do you see these weeds surrounding the hirasol?”, asks manong. “A sunflower will never turn into weed, even if it’s greatly outnumbered and surrounded by these invasive plants. Sure, weeds may stunt the sunflower’s growth, but it will never become one of them”.
“What does that mean?”, I ask him.
“As I’ve said, I know what’s going on with the world today”, replies the old man. “I know how brutal and unlawful your department has been. Somehow, your workmates have become poster boys of corruption, hatred and bloodshed. Just recently, I saw someone in your department unjustly slay a mother and a son.”
“But, if you’re anything like a hirasol”, manong continues. “Nothing can stop you from becoming a symbol of hope. Weeds can’t stop you from facing the sun, and weeds can’t stop you from becoming a harbinger of peace and justice.
“Keep nurturing yourself by following the light, young man”, adds the old man. “From the moment I saw you, I knew you’re a troubled young man. But, there’s hope for your department, and it has to start with you.”
It was quite a revelation. I wanted to move abroad and change careers. But, then, Covid-19 happened. Maybe, the Universe has a plan for me. Perhaps, the Universe wants me to be the first piece of a domino.
Maybe, I was destined to give hope and trigger a real change. And, I guess this pandemic is just part of a grand master plan.
As they say, the Universe works in mysterious ways.
I, then, give the old man a genuine smile, and thank him for his words of advice. I check the clock, and notice that I still have a few things and essentials to buy for my daughter.
“Thanks again, manong”, I say. “I have to go, though. I have a date with my daughter”.
“One more thing”, replies the old man. “Did you know that there are hundreds of potential seeds per sunflower head? And, did you know that these seeds can be harvested when the sunflower is brown with no more beautiful petals?”
“I didn’t know that”, I replied. “Does that have to do anything with me?”
“Ohh yes, it does. It’s a beautiful representation of sacrifice. Every time you sacrifice anything precious, just remember that you’re not exactly losing it. You’re just passing it to someone else. Always keep that mind whenever you’re with your daughter.”
“Like this sunflower”, he continues while pointing to the lone hirasol. “It will soon lose its beauty, color and charm. But through its sacrifice and seeds, it will create hope and something spectacular.”
“Ok, sir”, I replied. “I have to go. By the way, do you own this property?”
“No, hijo”, says the old man. “I’m just a gardener…a gardener of a sunflower that’s outnumbered by weeds.”
I have a million other questions. For one, if he isn’t the owner of this hirasol, then where is his sunflower?
But, I have to leave this hilly area. Time isn’t on my side. I’ll soon return to this spot, and have another rendezvous with the gardener.
A few weeks after my meeting with the gardener, I’m here again on this hilly area overlooking Cebu.
This time, the lone sunflower isn’t around. But, the whole area is now dotted with gorgeous yellows looking up brightly to the skies.
I look around, and ask people around about the gardener.
I can’t find the wise gardener. And for some reason, nobody knows about the gardener.
They even say that he doesn’t exist.
Even so, the gardener’s message was clear. Although he isn’t around, I can hear his voice echoing inside my head.
And, as I admire the spectacular sunflowers, I have come to a sunny conclusion.
I have to be a beacon of hope.
Life in 2020 has been nothing short of disappointing. But, there’s a glimmer of hope and a fighting chance, as long as we’re breathing. And, as what the hirasol has taught me, these dark days will soon pass.
And, through my wisdom, knowledge and abilities, I will create hope for the hopeless.
Like a hirasol, I have to be an alchemist of hope amid the chaos.