Something beautiful happened in Baltimore yesterday: thermometers reached 78 degrees on February 21—a date usually blanketed with snow. Naturally, I found a path near water to walk at lunch and stopped for post-Valentine’s-ridiculously-on-sale flowers on the way home. Today I put on a shirt that looks exactly like a shirt would look if the shirt makers had rolled it around in a field of wild flowers. It just felt right.
So it also feels right to tell you a story. The year of the flowers story goes like this:
Once upon a time I quit my job and moved across the country a time zone away from family and friends who had filled my calendar and my heart for a lifetime. I freaked. I forgot how to breathe, how to live, how to take care of myself. I lived with a stranger who bought plants and watered plants and cared for plants in a way that made them grow and thrive. I walked around our apartment like a bug-eyed alien plopped into the middle of a foreign greenery.
My professor challenged me to start buying flowers weekly at the grocery store. To form a habit of inviting beauty.
So I did it. I drove myself to Trader Joe’s and bought myself flowers and announced to the world that I would start buying flowers with the pennies in my grad school style bank account.
And that’s when the journey really began.
Delivery after delivery, some anonymous, the receptionist thought I had a persistent boyfriend. My green thumb roommate loved our beautiful apartment. “It’s like a secret garden.”
I remember a guy knocking on our apartment door a few weeks later. He wanted to give our receptionist a bouquet from the residents, something about a back surgery and family trouble, and he knew I had a growing vase collection. I stashed the empty vases under my sink because, well, it turns out that the flowers died. At first I hated it, but I learned how to cope with the life to death pendulum swing.
I hope that this story never grows old, this story that could fill pages and never ends. You see, I grew up in waiting rooms where flowers accompanied sickness and death. My parents or my grandparents gave me flowers after cheerleading competitions and dance recitals. But still, that meant I did something to earn those flowers.
These flowers in the year of the flowers story held no practical function. Just because. Just because I needed beauty. Grieving? Celebration? Beauty? I needed to prove to myself that I could invite beauty myself and that I could accept the gifts when they knocked on my door.
This morning, years after the year of the flowers story, trimming the stems of my fresh purchase while in my wild flowers shirt, I took a deep breath and remembered. I lingered a little longer at the wobbly wooden Craigslist table, gazing at the vase centerpiece and my little home filling with green plants.
Because there’s a man in red flannel who knocked on my door when I least expected it. Over time, I invited him inside. You’re drowning your plant, he said. Here I thought I had learned how to give it a full life, how to nurture and care for it.
He moved it to the sunlight, taught me when to move it to the shade (too cold by the window at night), and he checks the soil to know when it needs water. On Valentine’s Day, he brought me two green plants that should thrive in my low-lit house. He worried I didn’t like them, my reaction lacking exuberance, or something.
Really, I felt overwhelmed with the significance of those little green growing plants that I admire every time my sudsy hands run under hot water in the kitchen sink.