A box of flowers arrived yesterday when I was on a Zoom call. I forgot to tell my boyfriend to be on the lookout for them and bring them inside out of the Texas heat. As the call wrapped, I rushed out anxiously to bring in the blooms – the journey from New York to Austin can be treacherous for these living elements. With gentle haste, I wrestled to open the box, eager to marvel at the beauty of each variety but also worried about their condition.
As I cut open the box, I noticed the petals of the dahlias were wrinkled, crushed and flimsy; the bells of the foxglove were beginning to brown and the stems were weak, clearly dehydrated; and the heads of the ranunculus were drooping, which always perplexes me – are they praying? or are they thirsty?
As flowers tend to do, these blooms began to teach me a lesson as they tried to stay alive in my shaky hands on this hot afternoon. The message on this day was a lesson in noticing and attending to those in pain:
- to believe the cry of the suffering, we draw near to see and touch their pain
- to truly know what is important for each individual’s survival, we must learn their needs through intimate experience working with them
- and to increase the likelihood of the survival of those suffering, we have to provide them with extra support and attention
Pain and distress can be obvious at times, but sometimes we don’t notice pain hiding in plain sight. This is why we must always choose to pay attention – to look into the eyes of those experiencing pain and the same holds true for flowers. The pain of the dahlias was evident by their shriveled petals, nearly impossible for anyone to miss. For the foxglove, I had to draw near to see the burnt edges and bruises they acquired from the hot road they traveled. The status of the ranunculus was ambiguous – with their heads cocked downward, it was difficult to know if this was from dehydration or simply their natural posture. To know for sure, I had to pick them up – I had to hold them, touch them.
Flowers are like people, you see, we can’t realize someone’s pain if we don’t look their way, we can’t understand their scars if we don’t draw near enough for them to tell us their stories, and oftentimes, it requires us to reach out our hand to gain the trust of another for them to reveal to us what’s truly going on inside.
Knowing how to care for flowers is just as complex as knowing how to care for people. There are thousands of varieties and among each variety, there are different shades and among the different shades, there are different sizes and shapes and ultimately, there are different lifespans. All these differences necessitate individualized levels of hydration, temperature, pruning, sun exposure and floral foods. As I pulled each bunch of flowers out of the box, it became clear to me if I wanted each beautiful bloom to be present in my arrangement, I not only needed to consider the ideal care for each variety but also, what to do differently for those who seemed to be struggling.
When the flowers arrived, I assumed they started their journey from the same place. While these flowers arrived to me all at the same time, they came from many different farms – some from The Netherlands, others from South America, some from California and a few from New York. The reality was they each had their own origin story. As I stood over the sink preparing the water buckets, I began to understand while studying the complex differences between care for the different varieties is important, it is equally important to recognize the nuances of each individual journey.
After a brief scan of every flower’s condition, I swiftly plotted out a care plan. Instinctually, once I understood which flowers were struggling, I moved quickly to stabilize the dahlias, foxglove, and ranunculus in a hydration solution before tending to the others. To be clear, I cared about every flower in the shipment – but every flower didn’t need my immediate attention. Once I was able to provide a fresh cut and hydration for the healthier blooms, I returned to those suffering for some real healing work. I held onto hope that these intricate beauties of God’s creation would reclaim their strength and dance in my arrangement with the others.
So, here it is, here is the message the fragrant box of posies was sent to deliver:
if I do not get up close, I will overlook those who are struggling. If I do not lean in, if I do not move near, if I do not trust the signs and stories of the distressed are real and true, if I assume each flower’s journey was the same, if I do not believe what these flowers are unambiguously telling me — they have no chance of living as long as their fellow travelers.
If we do not move near our Black brothers and sisters to see their pain, if we do not trust their experiences to be real, if we do not believe their personal stories of oppression, if we assume their origin story is the same as those of our white brothers and sisters, if we refuse to take their word to be honest and absolute — they have no chance of surviving, and much less, thriving in this country.
When you hold a flower, God’s incredible creation, in your hand, it is impossible to miss its intricate beauty. If you don’t stop long enough to marvel at each stem’s unique details, you’re sure to miss its story. When we slow down to notice each other’s pain just as we observe each other’s beauty, there is a greater hope that we will all stand a chance to dance together, creating a much richer, deeper, fuller and more beautiful arrangement – in the greatest arrangement we call life.