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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

Through The Yellow Pollen Haze, Beauty Awaits

Tommy Tomlinson

Around our house, this is headache season.

My wife’s allergies kick in with the first breath of pollen in the air. It never used to bother me but I caught some sympathetic vibrations along the way. Now I can almost feel the yellow dust crawling up into my sinuses. I go to work in the morning and the whole car is coated with the stuff.

I get so grumpy about it that I almost forget to notice the riot of beauty all around us.

The cherry trees and Bradford pears and dogwoods have exploded in white. The branches of tulip trees are weighted down with blooms. Our old grafted camellia bush is red and white and pink. Purple phlox crawls across the ground. The azaleas let everybody else go first, but now they’re starting to peek out, too.

Above our heads the pines and oaks and magnolias are turning the color wheel to bright green. They’re the source of most of the pollen, but the flowers are getting into it, too, and just in the last few days I’ve seen a bee or two poking around. It’s all part of the incredible awakening of the earth that happens every spring, the colossal old engine coming to life after a winter in the garage.

It’s a miracle. It’s also, quite literally, a headache.

So the question becomes: Which one do you pay attention to?

The sniffles and stuffiness feels like a test. You can get so annoyed with the discomfort that you miss the beauty.

There’s almost no purely great experience in this world. Maybe you’re at the best concert of your life but your legs get tired from standing. Maybe you’re on vacation with the one you love but the sink at your hotel drips. What sticks in your mind? What do you take home with you? The beach, or the dripping sink?

Over time, and with experience, we wire ourselves to focus on either the best or the worst. Once you start to see the world a certain way, it’s hard to change. What spring reminds me of is that sometimes the headaches serve a purpose. Without the pollen we wouldn’t have the flowers.

It reminds me of one of those late-night dorm-room questions: If there’s a higher power, why does it let bad things happen? To me, there’s only one answer that makes sense: If bad things never happened, how would we ever appreciate the good?

That might be a little too much philosophy for a Monday morning, especially if you have a pollen headache. So come at it this way instead: Take an antihistamine. Do one of those neti pots. Whatever clears your head. Then, when you go outside, enjoy the flowers. And remember what it takes for them to bloom.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.