The Sentinal

Copyright © 2001, 2011 William Mego

I first noticed it one oppressively hot afternoon in July. The weed had emerged through a crack in the driveway. It looked so valiant as it struggled up through the asphalt that I did not have the heart to cut it. All it wanted was a chance at life.

Anyway, the weed wasn't really in the way – if you steered a bit north of it. So every morning when I went out to collect our medley of newspapers I would check its progress. Amazingly, none of the papers every landed on it.

It eventually grew to the height of a man. It had leaves surrounding a sturdy stem like bristles on a brush and was topped by a bushy inflorescence containing hundreds of tiny whitish flowers. It guarded the driveway like Cerberus.

“What is that thing?” passersby would ask. “A horseweed,” we would answer, with a tone in our voices that implied it was, in fact, a rather fine example of one. The better people would say, “Well, it's very nice,” and we would thank them.

Though I previously would not have imagined it, Erigeron canadensis, the horseweed, is an interesting and useful plant. A member of the daisy family, its closest cousins are the fleabanes. A tea made from the flowering top of the horseweed is an astringent that can increase perspiration. It even has been used to treat bronchitis and kidney troubles.

To my knowledge, it demonstrates no particular fondness for driveways, preferring instead to grow along railroad tracks. There are, it turns out, many cheerful facts to be know about horseweeds. But if circumstances had not conspired to concentrate my attention on that particular one, I never would have known them.

Because it was separated from the multitude of plants with which it is usually given to associate, I was forced to take a moment to look at it, to really see it, to learn of its unique qualities and to appreciate it's slate of virtues.

It occurs to me this holiday season it is much the same with people. They pass through our lives as a multitude, largely unseen and unappreciated. It is only on those exceedingly rare occasions when circumstances conspire to concentrate our attention on an individual that we have any chance of seeing the cleverness or nobility that may lie within.

Wordsworth wrote that the “best portion of a good man's life” are his “little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.” Would we not all be the better for it if they were celebrated?

Surely, if we have learned nothing else in the past three months it should be the treachery inherent in labels and preconceptions. What matters is the quality of an individual's spirit – his capacity for compassion and sacrifice, courage and honor, and endurance.

Well, the horseweed's time with us is just about over. Standing just three feet from the food table, it shared our neighborhood's late-fall block party and is now decked out with a string of flashing lights for the holiday. I hope it has accomplished everything to which any horseweed, in the fullness of its ambition, could ever aspire.

And, much more sincerely, I wish that same thing for Sun readers. If you are lonely, I hope someone seeks you out. If you have suffered a loss, I hope someone tries to understand. If you are sick and frightened, I hope someone finds his way to your side. And if all is well, I hope you have the pleasure of seeking out, understanding and sitting by someone's side.

Have a merry Christmas and, as we say around here, a very happy horseweed.