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With the morning sun slowly rising higher in a cloudless sky, I stood in the middle of a sunflower field, its yellow petals glowing softly in the dim light. I was scared to open my mouth — not for fear of disturbing the peaceful scene, but because I knew with just one word I might burst into tears.

I was weaving my way through Maria’s Field of Hope, 50-acres of sunflowers stretching along I-90 in Avon. Inspired by the memory of 7-year-old Maria, the blooms were planted in 2014 to honor children battling cancer and to remember those we’ve lost. Maria’s parents created Prayers from Maria Children’s Glioma Cancer Foundation, which is dedicated to funding global research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for childhood brain tumors, known as gliomas.

Just an hour after sunrise and already the field was ablaze in light and filled with happy chatter. Couples were strolling the pathways hand in hand, and parents were holding their babies next to giant flowers to capture the perfect photo. Any sadness I had was replaced with hope and inspiration.

In French, the word for sunflower is tournesol, literally to turn toward the sun. Standing there, I was reminded of a metaphor I love about living like a sunflower: If you turn your face to the sun, the shadows will always fall behind you.

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Photos by Michael Ciuni

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