One of my favourite films is ‘Calendar Girls’ starring Helen Mirren (The Queen), Julie Walters (Molly Weasely in Harry Potter movies), and Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey), along with a stellar cast of English actresses. Together they bring to life the true story of a Yorkshire village where the death of the sunflower-loving husband of one of the main protagonists, fuels the creation of a black-and-white nude calendar by and featuring middle-aged women to support a local hospital where the lone spot of colour remains the yellow of the flower. And while the film is funny and a bright spot on those really grey days, it also remains a perennial source of inspiration for me.
In a crucial scene in the film, while giving tribute to the deceased husband of her best friend, Helen Mirren’s character delivers a speech that was meant to be provided by the husband during a Women’s Institute meeting. In the address, he drew a parallel between the women he was writing for and the sunflowers, while sketching out a valuable life lesson.
“I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life that the sunflower. For me, that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because it looks like the sun but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky — a satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life.”
While this education is valuable in itself, it comes alive when experienced first-hand.
A few weeks ago, I happened to travel to the village where my organisation has laid its roots and is leading several initiatives for the well-being of the residents. It was my first visit since joining the organisation, and I was encouraged to walk around to survey the village. Despite the searing summer sun and my back laced with sweat, I soldiered on with a parched throat around the empty streets of the village till I found myself right in front of a large field full of sunflowers.
In a landscape that was more brown and green given the season, the parade of sharp yellow took my breath away. As much as I wanted to walk into the field and be surrounded by the richness of the flowers, I hesitated. Instead, I decided to abandon my hour-long walk and stand there and feast my eyes on the carpet of yellow and green that stood with such regal finesse in front of me.
For the next twenty minutes, as I kept staring at the sunflowers that swayed ever so lightly when the hot, arid Punjab winds stroked them, I decided to drill deep into myself and find some gumption to stare at the harshness of life. And while life for me is fairer than the majority, and acknowledging this fact makes me blush with gratitude, yet the bruises of everyday life are singularly my own, and when my skin bleeds, the pain can be terrifying. And yet on that day, I realised that when the sunflower stares down the sun, in its extraordinary act, lies the fuel of its growth. It reminded me that perhaps a strange bliss lies in hardship, and that only in the trajectory of difficulty can success be found. The sight of the field made me realise that one must discover that life-sustaining stream of relentless golden-yellow that feeds both the soul and the muscles which will eventually take us towards the stars we want for ourselves. In that exploration lies our success. Perhaps in being sunflowers, we will find a semblance of happiness that we crave so much.
My reverie was broken when calls for lunch were made by my colleagues. The twenty-minute trek to hot food and smiling colleagues was made with a full heart and a refreshed mind. If life mimics the movies, this was one moment that forever changed me. And as I write this, I realised that in the view that particular field provided me, my world became a sweeter, better place despite the unknown upheavals that await me every day.
I hope you find your bed of sunflower as well. I know I did.
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