The Parable of the Lawnmower

by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

One spring there was a beautiful flower. She stood high on her tall and slender stalk and waved in what she knew was an attractive way in the breeze, for the part of the garden she lived in was sheltered from strong winds. Her petals were sunset pink with gentle streaks of white at the edges. Her centre was lime green and the colours all worked together to make her truly a work of art. But the flower did not think about who the artist might be and she did not look very far beyond herself and her many admirers.

All the bright green grass and the less cultivated weeds around her looked up to her and told her how lovely she was, and she had no reason to disagree with them.

“Truly,” they said adoringly, “Truly, you are the most beautiful flower we have ever seen.” And they were not lying. They had lived here in the same square of the lawn for all their short lives, but here in this section of garden she really was the most beautiful flower. The grass and weeds knew that they could never aspire to being so colourful.

The flower spent many hours sunbathing and considering her own loveliness. She looked only to herself and gave little attention to those around her or thoughts of what might lie beyond the edges of her square-foot world. “How shiny are my petals,” she would think to herself, “and how wonderfully they glisten. The sunlight must have been made just to reflect my loveliness. I think the sun, that small golden circle, must envy my beauty, for I am far larger than him and I do not ever disappear behind clouds, and although I close up my petals for the night I do not go away. I am sure I am beautiful even in the dark.” And when she asked them, the weeds and the grass assured her that this was true.

One day one of the oldest grasses called out a warning. This was unheard of, as the garden was always so peaceful. The grass had to shout out several times before she took any notice of him, and this was only because what he said had made the grass and the other weeds flatten themselves to the ground in fear. The flower knew she had nothing to fear because she was special.

“What are you saying?” she enquired at last.

“You must listen to me, dear flower,” said the grass, relieved she had heard his shouts at last. “The lawnmower is coming, and we must keep as low as we can. Bend your beautiful head so that you don’t lose it!”

“The lawnmower? What is that? How can it hurt me? I shall not bend my head down, for then no-one would see its beauty. What a ridiculous suggestion.” And she refused to hear more.

The grass tried several times to make her heed his warning, but she would not listen, and so he lay himself down as flat as he could to the ground, full with sadness at the flower’s stubborn nature and what it would bring her.

Sure enough there was a great roaring sound and the ground started to shake. The flower trembled right down to her roots but she was still quite sure that she was queen of all she surveyed and she did not bend her head.

It was the work of a moment for the mower’s blades to trim the tops of the grass and flatten the weeds and sever the flower’s stem. The beautiful flower was whirled up into the collecting basket of the lawnmower and behind it was left a small, shaking plant, simply a rosette of leaves and a partial stem, cut close to the ground, oozing white sap.

“Oh dear,” said the old grass, as it lifted its head. “I am so sorry, little flower. I wish you had listened to me.”

The plant that had lost its flower was unable to answer for some time. She was in shock. As she sat and gradually recovered the weeds and grasses all around her began to sit up and to see what had happened. Most of them too had been cut and lopped, but they had hunkered down into the ground like the old grass had told them to and had yet to flower, it being only spring, so they had not lost as much.

For a long time the flower (for such she still thought of herself) remained silent. She realised that she was still alive, that the sun still shone and the breeze still came, even though her flower had gone. She looked around herself from this low down in the lawn and saw how beautifully the sunlight reflected off the bright green grass and the small buds on the weeds.

She noticed how soft and colourful the moss was that grew wherever it could. She thought long and hard about who she was without her flower and realised that there was more to her than beauty. She began to know and feel the soil with her roots and all the crawly things that crept or slithered there. She started to converse again but this time instead of doing most of the talking or expecting praise, she listened to the grass and the weeds and saw their wisdom and beauty.

There were so many new things to see and understand that she could not believe she was in the same patch of ground as before, when all she had seen was her own beauty and her own admirers. She gloried in the fact that her friends still spoke to her even though she no longer had a flower. Their constancy warmed her heart.

After a little while, the plant stalk began to grow again and in the sunshine a bud began to form. The plant was surprised, for she had not known that this would happen, she had become used to being just a plant. She began to be a little afraid.

“Dear grass,” she said to the friend whose advice she had once disdained, “dear friend, do tell me what to do, my flower is returning.”

“But this is a good thing, dear flower. The sun and the rain have been restoring you and soon you will be back to your glorious old self.”

“No!!” cried the flower in pain, and the old grass and the younger grasses and all the weeds were astonished.

“Whatever is the matter?!” they asked, “Surely you long to be the most beautiful flower again? We shall all gaze at you admiringly as we did once before, isn’t that what you want?”

“No!” cried the flower again. “I do not wish to be admired. I have seen for myself that there is beauty in every small thing. Every blade of grass is a miracle of freshness, such a balance of straight and curved, such a perfect wholeness to be wondered at. Every weed is really a flower or a delicate plant with shapes and colours to be gazed upon. No, I do not wish to ever be thought of as beautiful and I do not want to become my old, small-thinking self again!”

The younger plants were taken aback, but the old grass gave a small chuckle.

“My dear flower,” he said reassuringly, “dear one, you will never be the same again, you are a plant, you GROW. The things you once thought you knew are now changed. The things you think now that seem so certain will also be changed. The more you grow, the longer you live, the more you learn, and the more you change. This is the pattern of a good life.”

The flower began to understand. She let her bud unfurl and she was truly again the most beautiful flower in that small patch of garden. But she did not think of herself that way and instead of focussing on herself, she used the height of her new flower to see further. She learned that the sun shone on all the other flowers too, and that he must be much bigger and greater than she had first imagined. She learnt that further off there were places that were not lawn, and there were trees and flowers that far surpassed her own loveliness. She watched through the summer as her dearest friends brought forth flowers which were all amazing to behold, however tiny and pale they might be, and she encouraged and admired them so that they too knew they had worth.

Then one day, the old grass cried out, “Here comes the lawnmower!” for he had seen it in the distance.

The flower had the wisdom to bow her head, and though she did not save her flower this time either, she did not mind, because she knew it would return and that it held only part of her value. Several times that first summer the lawnmower came again. The flower learnt the trick to keeping herself very low to the ground. But as the golden leaves began to fall and the sun’s warmth was waning, the flower knew it would soon be time to sleep for the winter. She did not cry, nor pity herself, for she had heard the old grass tell about springtime’s return. She gathered her resources into her roots which were deeper now than ever before, and put her mind to thinking on the things she had learned and was learning; on how to enrich the soil around her and take nourishment from it, on how to give and to receive, on how to reflect well the glory of the sun and his maker.

The following spring and every year after that, she became more and more wise, and more and more beautiful.

Keren Dibbens-Wyatt is a chronically ill writer and artist with a passion for poetry, mysticism, story and colour. Her writing features regularly on spiritual blogs and in literary journals. Her latest book is Recital of Love (Paraclete Press 2020). Keren suffers from M.E. which keeps her largely out of the trouble she would doubtless get into otherwise.  

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Artwork: “Flower in pastels” by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt, inspired by the photography of Sei Nakatugawa, with kind permission.

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