The Sunflower and the Hummingbird

Katie Napiwocki avatar

by Katie Napiwocki |

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I’ve noticed a trend in social media posts lately: Many of us are missing out on highly anticipated plans.

Glorious vacation itineraries have been crumpled. Getaway maps have been folded up and tucked into glove compartments. Retreats sit silent without human reflection. We are all supposed to be somewhere we’re not. 

Yet strangely, we are precisely where we’re meant to be. 

Some people choose to see this time as one of great unforeseen adventure. A weather pattern of forceful gales is bending our branches, reminding us of the strength of our roots and our formidable capacity to endure future storms. 

Knowing that true adventurers make the most of their surroundings with whatever resources they have at hand, I’ve been challenging myself to cope with imperious stress by engaging in a healing concoction of uplifting distractions balanced with meditative contemplation. 

My home is my oasis. I live in an area that translates to “lake of the land of the pines,” from a Native American language family. Each spring, I begin planning which blooms I’d like to grow outdoors. I’ve taken an interest in adaptive gardening. Even though I need help with the physical aspects of the planting and maintenance phases, I gather immense fulfillment from gardening. 

Living with SMA has involved a fair amount of heartache. When I grieve for what I’ve lost from my SMA over the years, and what I continue to lose, the growth of spring and summer helps me to feel a sense of renewal. It’s as if the earth is reassuring me that it will start anew with me, right now, with whatever I have to offer. Together, we will grow something beautiful this season.

Even on gloomy days when it all becomes too much to bear — when I cannot fathom losing one more ounce of physical function, or when I fear what my caregiving routine will eventually evolve into — the soil will take my rain and churn out blossoms bursting with all the color needed to brighten my downtrodden heart. 

I’ve been eyeing up a seed packet pinned to my bulletin board. The heading above a majestically vibrant sunflower photo exclaims, “Tall Plants, Huge Flowers!” 

I planted this same variety of mammoth sunflower during a recent spring season. I must say, their claim to fame wasn’t a lie! The stalks sprouted to no less than 10 feet tall. Enormous heads bloomed as luminary compasses, proudly watching the sun’s voyage across the ocean of sky throughout each summer day.

At their peak, the heads bowed down gently. Towering stalks swayed to the rhythm of romantic breezes. Elephantine leaves extended a warm invitation of embrace, as if soliciting a hug from any passerby. I was able to maneuver my wheelchair underneath the sunflower canopy to revel in their glory, and I wasn’t the only one captivated by their magic. Looking up, I could always spot a foliage-surfing grasshopper, a goldfinch perched in search of a snack, or several bumblebees who were surely late for something. 

But above all, I adored the ruby-throated hummingbirds swooping by to inspect the mountainous florals because it meant they had returned from another daring expedition. I loved the hummingbirds because of their story. Because they had survived.

Regardless of their tiny stature, most ruby-throated hummingbirds embark on a fierce migration path each winter toward Mexico and Central America. As summer days in North America draw to a close, this flying ace prepares for an arduous flight over the open waters of the entire Gulf of Mexico, only to retrace their route north again when the spring winds blow. 

Each year of a hummingbird’s life brings this harrowing trial, but they are built for defying the odds. Instinctively, their weight bulks to the magnitude of a pocket warrior. Their bodies are furnished for stamina, with wings that beat at a tremendous tempo. But ultimately, I believe it is their mighty spirit that carries much of the burden.

Life is messy right now. It’s messy in many different ways for all types of people.

When I feel overwhelmed, I take time to be OK with the mess. I wander to the corner of the map with a forest to hide in. I simmer in the unfairness of it all. I acknowledge and nurture the raw emotions. But I don’t sit there for too long. I look for the clearing out of that ominous forest and find my place in the sun, once again. 

If your migration toward better days has been disrupted and you’re feeling blue, keep thinking about tomorrow’s destination. Keep planning your garden. Be the resilient hummingbird that sails through the hardship of treacherous waters and stares down the eyes of doubt. Be the sunflower that follows the sun, extending a welcoming embrace to help all surrounding life flourish.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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