One day I found myself in conversation with a state park ranger in Arkansas. I
mentioned how much I loved all the wildflowers along the side of the road before
joking, “Don’t they know how much prettier they’d look in some scenic field instead of
surrounded by trash?”
My humor was lost on Ranger Rick, who earnestly replied, “Wildflowers always grow
best where the soil is disturbed.”
For the rest of the summer, I thought about that idea. I journaled about it. I even
wrote a poem about it. Slowly but surely I came to realize that, of course, I loved those
wildflowers because those wildflowers mirrored me.
Long after that summer ended, the ranger’s words have stayed with me. Actually, I
think about them pretty much every day: Wildflowers always grow best where the soil is
disturbed. That sentence has become both my metaphor and my mantra.
In everything I have done creatively, everything I have written, everything I have
taught, everything I have designed, what I eventually came to call My Wildflower Ethos
has guided me and given me meaning when otherwise I might have given up hope of
ever understanding myself. Whenever the space between my familiar false self and the
mirage of the true me seemed hopelessly huge, My Wildflower Ethos taught me how to
blossom right where I was.
That summer, when I saw those beautiful colors coming up in a place of seeming
ugliness, when I learned that flowers need the disturbance of soil that happens when
two seemingly disparate worlds bump up against one another, I realized that despite my
mother’s displeasure when anything seemed less than perfect, that messy place where
unlikely things meet had always been the most compelling place for me to be. Exciting,
energizing, interesting, fascinating, hopeful, healing—even as it is also uncertain, scary,
unknown, confusing, and untidy—the disturbed soil between my false and true selves
is where I’ve spent most of my life.
There—where the asphalt meets the dirt, where the litter of life accumulates and
still the wildflowers grow—is the beautifully contradictory, completely unlikely, and
fundamentally hopeful place where all necessary change begins. It is, in fact, the
crucible of change (no matter how painful that change might initially be), and therefore
the place where we must risk sowing the seeds of our deepest selves, our wildest
dreams, and our greatest hopes. There, in that often uncomfortable wide-open liminal
space between known and unknown, between fear and love, between hope and horror,
between comfort and change, that is the space that we must be willing to inhabit in
order to live the lives we seek.
When we inhabit liminal space, we are “occupying a position at, or on both sides
of, a door, a boundary, or threshold.” To be on both sides of something means that
ultimately we find ourselves in neither. We are split, both inside and out. It is impossible
to be present in either place—and we feel unsure of who we are because there is
Of course, I loved those
wildflowers because those
wildflowers mirrored me.