When mom went to the market, she came home carrying about 200 bags full of everythings in her two small hands. And on top of that, always an armful of flowers.
It’s one of my favorite childhood memories: mom bringing home the most beautiful flowers and making a spectacular arrangement to place under the antique mirror in our living-room.
The thing with mom is that she did the work of 10 people too, between a job, free lance stuff, keeping everyone fed, in fresh clothes, and an immaculate house.
And…those were times of great struggle. The quest for everything many of us take for granted – and especially food – was an all-consuming, daily task. Those everythings mom somehow managed to find were anything but easy to get. On top of persistence, endurance and luck, one had to bribe everyone, possess sufficient money to be able to buy ‘in bulk’ when some item showed up, and immediately contact one’s network to announce the availability of said item and figure out possible trades.
Coffee was traded for meat, flour for eggs, oil for cheese or even toilet paper. It all sounds ‘homesteady’ and quaint but it was not. It was brutal, hard, scary. Still, mom managed to make it look almost effortless and never complained. It was miraculous to see that somehow, even though stores were empty and food was always an issue, she always managed to arrange for simple, yet wonderful meals.
But back to the flowers.
Nobody understood what she was doing, why she was spending what I now know was a small fortune of her very hard earned money on flowers, some of which were wildflowers. It’s not like she was buying them for a special occasion. In such hard times as those we lived in, people were buying food…or at least pantyhose, soap, detergent…not flowers!
At worst, I heard people say the flowers were wasteful. At best, an indulgence reserved for irresponsible, crazy artists who lacked a practical perspective. For mom though, it was simple – the flowers were beautiful. And we needed beauty.
But there was more to it.
I always thought this buying of flowers, which mom does to this day, was just something wonderfully endearing and quirky about her. Until life started happening to me too, on a different continent, in very different circumstances. And as difficult times hit, I noticed that I too reached for flowers, even if my very modest purchases were never a match for the glorious bouquets of my childhood.
I could have saved the money of course. But I did not. And used to think I’m just being poetically frivolous. Until I understood, in my own life, what the buying of flowers means.
It is a celebration. Despite the harshest of circumstances. Despite pain. Despite exhaustion or need. It is a stepping forward and saying “Life is still beautiful”. A refusal to struggle only to survive. An act of defiance against all that would defeat us. A gesture of love and tenderness in acknowledgment of our vulnerability and humanity.
After all, we are not just some motorized creatures who exist only to produce and survive long enough so as to endure the next crisis. We are also here to live. We are beautiful and fragile. And our souls are meant to sing.
I did not know how much love and courage it takes to celebrate when the world seems to collapse all around you, and you stand in the middle of your life wondering how on earth you will pull off another miracle of strength, hope and perseverance so as to do the things you need to do and move forward.
It’s what mom did all her life. And people saw her buying “only” flowers.
I did not know until I stood in the middle of my own life and realized, after each struggle and storm, that somehow, I had much courage and much love left too. In fact, at times even more than I had started out with.
It’s strange where our lessons come from, and our healthiest of habits – those that help us not only survive or rise back up after a fall, but also retain our capacity to joyfully appreciate the small, wonderful things in life. Appreciate ourselves, and recognize our many gifts that nothing can take away.
When shopping for Thanksgiving tonight with my younger son, the first things I reached for at the store were flowers. I stopped and smiled, remembering mom.
And I noticed my son was watching me fuss over the options for a bouquet with a knowing patience.
I hope one day he will remember that his mother also bought flowers. Even if things were very difficult. And that just like I learned from my mother, he too is learning that in life, no matter what, we also need beauty. And we have to celebrate. And that it takes courage and love to do that.