I have been volunteering lately at a school that is classified as “high needs.” The route there takes me past row upon dreary row of single story, gray apartments. The buildings squat on a low hill rising in identical, long, barracks-like lines. Curtains in the windows are sometimes wildly crooked, sometimes tacked up bed-sheets.

Blank and lifeless to my eyes.

The school door is always locked – you have to buzz in to have someone open the door for you. A sign states that there are no public restrooms.

Inside, the change begins. The teachers and staff smile, the walls are adorned with pictures of the students and many, many positive messages of love and belonging. “You are important!”… “Grow where you are planted!” … “You belong!” They do the best they can to lock out the harshness that some of the kids live with.

Yesterday, Yosuf asked me about sunflowers; how can a person grow them? I explained that the ones he buys to chew on have been roasted, but all he needs to do, is come spring, use his finger to push a single flower seed into the ground. Nature will look after the rest.

We talked about how amazing sunflowers are. A big sunflower head is what a math teacher used to show me how the swirl of seeds are a perfect Fibonacci sequence (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144... where each number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two numbers – just wow!)

Our world is completely organized by beauty and math, and the sunflower is the poster child of it all.  

Even in terrible soil, those glorious sunshine yellow petals lift up to the blue, blue sky, turning minute by minute to always face the sun. Come fall, row upon row of seeds will feed birds and small animals.

So incredibly perfect. So easy to overlook.

The kids got totally into it, asking where to get seeds. I promised them and myself, that come spring, I would arrive with packets of seeds for giant sunflowers.

There is nothing like a bunch of eager kids to make you open your eyes. When I drove home through the dreary apartments, I suddenly realized why Yosuf had asked about the flowers.

All along one dilapidated fence a battalion of sunflowers turned their faces to the sky. I pulled over. Here and there a single great flower proudly decorated their neighborhood. Behind one of the buildings, someone had made a garden in an empty lot. Plastic covers sheltered thriving vegetables. A cluster of sunflowers shone against a gray wall. A pink tricycle had been left beside them.

Sunflowers. Perfect, beautiful, unexpected. I am so grateful for them.