A Dandelion Moment


It’s been a long time since I wrote for my blog.  But yesterday I had a moment. I was leaving my neighborhood and as I looked to my left to check for traffic, I saw a familiar face at the bus stop with two dandelion seed heads (aka puff balls or clocks), one in each hand.  This man has been a part of my community for a long time and, from my observations over the last 7 years, I believe he is a person with special needs. Whenever I see this man, I make assumptions and a possible narrative for him; it is something I do that is a bit like people-watching, which helps me to connect and empathize with strangers.  I often see him walking in very different parts of the city, but I always see him walking the same long route to and from the bus stop, regardless of the weather. I would guess he is in his fifties and he is also always alone.  He always has a baseball hat and bag with him and I wonder where he goes, for he spends so much of his day walking and waiting for the bus that there does not seem to be much time for other activities.

Many people do not know that I used to teach young adults with special needs. My primary role with these individuals was to ease transition from school to independent living and employment.  I realize that my narrative for this man may be inaccurate or that I’m making false assumptions, but when I see this man— a man I do not know— I am proud of him and proud that he lives in my community.  I also believe that, just as fictional literature can teach us empathy and understanding, the stories we imagine can do the same.

Two days ago, before I saw my neighbor at the corner, I heard this piece on NPR about how excessive photography and over-documentation could be washing out our memories.  When I saw this man standing there at the corner, I wanted to take his photograph.  As I drove away, the impulse remained and I thought about the ‘lost’ moment, but also about how that process would have affected him.  How would he have felt as I took my camera out and snapped a picture of him at the bus stop then drove away?  Not a lost moment, I decided– just one worth capturing a different way.

Often, especially when I am with my children, I try to remind myself of a moment at my high school graduation.  As 311 of us waded across the field to hug, congratulate, and take pictures, I found a good friend sitting on the ground all alone.  I asked him why he was just sitting there in his robe, hat in hand.  He said, “I’m just taking a mental picture.”  I have never forgotten the picture that I took of him when he said that; I always wondered if he took a picture of me at the same moment.

So, as I drove away and as I write this now, I can picture the face of a man.  He had tan pants, a white shirt, a grey jacket, and a white baseball hat.  A blue giant eagle bag hung on his wrist and he had a dandelion puff ball in each hand.  He was just about to blow on one and looked really excited to make his wish.  As I drove up to the stop sign and turned to check traffic, I caught him off-guard and he turned to look at me.  Our eyes met and he froze— I had interrupted his plan and he waited until I looked away.  As I drove off, I looked in my rear view mirror just in time to see him take a deep breath…

My eyes filled with tears of gratitude that I had taken the time to observe this moment and how another person in my community appreciates the world around us.  I was reminded how good it feels to slow down and make wishes.  I was reminded to take mental pictures.

What is your dandelion moment?