It started sometime after the pandemic became pedestrian.
Circa July 2020, a new, gnawing, unshuttupable hunger took hold.
I needed sunflowers.
New rhythms had been established. A “new normal” had gnarled its roots around our routines, even as we all shook our fists at that horrid, hateful term.
We were finding our feet, and finding paths around our fears, and finding each other behind veils and viral loads, and finding that we are resilient little weeds, we dandy lions and lads and ladies.
The cats, consistently the best at doing their best, were finding their way to Tabby’s Place as urgently as ever.
And in the midst of all this, I was finding myself ravenous for sunflowers.
I wanted them on my clothes. I wanted them on my walls. I wanted them on my notepads and scrunchies and stitched into my sun-gluttonous soul. I could not put sunflowers out of my mind. I would have traded all the meteors and feral toads in the galaxy for more sunflowers. (Let the record show I have a thing for meteors, and of course we all have a thing for feral toads.)
At first, I assumed this was some sort of self-soothing nostalgia, a 90s girl reaching for the black-and-yellow babydoll dresses and hand-drawn zines of her youth in a time of uncertainty. (Let the record show that, other than a brief visit to retrieve my rad wardrobe and maybe revisit Before Sunrise with adult eyes, I have no desire to return to 1995.)
But there was something more.
I needed sunflowers.
And the bottomless botanical pit has only grown as the pandemic has expanded, contracted, and Deltafied.
Now I understand.
I needed sunflowers because I needed Sunflower. So do you, kittens.
Sunflower showed up unceremoniously in July 2020, just the time of year when big yellow blossoms begin to grin and glow and permit us to grow young again. She’d bloomed quietly for most of her many years, a contented introvert in a well-managed cat colony.
Many summers sweltered along without introducing Sunflower to the peculiar humidity of human hugs. She grew up; she grew lovely; she grew unaccustomed to the affections we assume are the heart of happiness.
But great joy grew in Sun’s garden, no less dazzling for being quiet. She knew an untamed peace.
Until her nose cried mutiny.
Seemingly overnight, Sunflower’s bright blossom was notched with woe. Her caretaker contacted Tabby’s Place, and our vet team confirmed the worst: Sunflower had skin cancer.
It was worse than a military tank thundering through flower fields. This form of cancer, in this location, is the kind of summer-smashing sadness that no golden autumn can heal.
We loved Sunflower on arrival, even as the sight of her face mowed down our hearts.
We pledged to do our best by her, for however long she was ours to behold.
We would turn Tabby’s Place into an invincible summer.
We would give her the grace and the patience and the space — vast, football-sized fields of space — to be herself, quiet and content and inexpressibly beautiful.
We would even grab two stems from the garden center, popping both Sunflower and her sister (cousin? niece?) Olivia into the Tabby’s Place vase. (Don’t picture crystal or Lenox here. It’s a jelly-jar-turned-drinking-glass with gnarly pictures of The Incredible Hulk on the side. But I digress.)
Sunflower would not thank us in the usual way.
There would be no Princess Charming-style smittenness, no gaudy Lemon gush of lusty affection and over-the-top admiration. Neither Sunflower nor her sister (vice chancellor? deputy chief of staff?) would galumph into our arms with un-self-conscious snugglage.
Sun’s would be a softer beam.
Sun would thank us, as sunflowers do, simply by being.
And it would be exquisitely more than enough.
A summer and then some later, Sunflower is still here, still shining, still sending forth healing rays of calm. She remains the virtuoso of peace, a star of serenity in strange times whose strangeness shows no sign of shuffling off.
Sun’s hulking superpower?
The blazing quiet comfort of the moment — this moment, not the one three hours or two seasons or five pandemics down the humid road.
Sun knows how to shine, and to rest, and to trust that each season’s sweetness will be sufficient.
Even as she lives with questions — will her cancer awaken? what if Olivia gets adopted first? will those hairless hapless two-legged dunderheads bring the slop with the tiny shrimps again tonight? — Sunflower does not strive.
She makes the most of the material at hand: the cool smoothness of the solarium ramp. The companionship of Olivia and Iris. The open skylight. The buzzing zestful dragonflies that waft in from Cherny’s Garden. The promise that summer’s end is smooched by autumn’s bounty.
The bounty within one Sunflower.
Out in the field, each individual sunflower is actually thousands of tiny flowers. The yellow streamers we see are just decoration for the busy brown community of “disc florets,” a tiny botanical city of individuals coming together to make something beautiful.
Back at Tabby’s Place, our Sunflower is the sum of all the beloveds who have borne her over life’s toils and snares. We’ll never know all the names of all the people who have loved her to this day. But the grand total of all that quiet devotion is one cat whose story shines full light over autumn’s uncertainties.
We thought Sunflower needed us. I thought I needed sunflowers.
What we all — feline, human, dragonfly and disc floret alike — need is only to remember: we’ve been loved this far, and love is not about to drop us now.
We don’t know how; we can’t see all the swamps we’ll have to cross, stem-deep in sorrow’s sludge; we have no idea where each day’s light will come from, exactly.
But we can keep our peace if we keep fixed on the sun.
There is more love surrounding us — nameless and a little feral, invisible and incandescent — than we will ever understand.
May we let it make us and remake us, heal us and shepherd us into seasons unseen. We’re sunflowers too, you and me.