We have given flowers an intriguing, versatile role: to be witnesses in moments in our life both full of gravity and levity, unique and everyday. Flowers are present for births. They demonstrate love and affection and celebrate unions. They offer comfort in death. They sit on our tables as we eat our breakfast. They grace our bathroom shelf. They rest beside our beds. They know our habits and our rituals.
I am always intrigued how some would-be customers shy away from flowers because they don’t last long. Sometimes this is presented as an economic argument, that flowers are a luxury, which I acknowledge this truth for some people. However, I get the feeling this is not the only reason for others. I think for some there is a discomfort around flowers because they don’t want to see something fade out and die.
If you catch a farmer in the right mood, perhaps during a particularly moving sunset or a number of brews, they will admit to a strange phenomenon. We know as much as we think we are in control, we know the plants and animals we work with are working on us constantly. They change the way we care for them, to suit their preferences. They work on our hearts by helping us see the world from their perspective.
The flowers have been teaching me all along, but until recently, I hadn’t seen the depth of their lesson. The flowers lately are teaching me about life and loss, in all its bittersweet glory.
This past year was a year of loss for many, myself included. There was a steady state of suffering for those I know and love.
Loss of life.
Loss of health.
Loss of employment.
Loss of housing.
Loss of courage.
Loss of dreams.
Loss of relationships.
Loss of community.
Loss of justice.
Loss of kindness.
Loss of respect.
Loss of wildness.
There is an urge at the year’s end to wipe this all away. To start a fresh. To forget. To incinerate. I felt it. I wanted to make a dangerously high and ferocious bonfire on New Year’s Eve to toss all the hurt onto and make it disappear into smoke. But time, contemplation, reading, and flowers moved my heart to other actions.
These past few months I walked with grief, allowing it time and space to work on my heart. During this period, I’ve begun to recognize the lessons working as a flower farmer has afforded me. It’s easy to point to the skills and lessons I’ve learned that are valued by society. It’s harder to articulate the ones that society ignores, discounts, or fears. Loss embodies all three of these and so I struggle to write this more than anything else I have shared. I feel like I don’t even have language for it.
But I have the flowers and here’s what they taught me:
You cannot have the heart-moving beauty, riotous colour, and delightful swaying dance of a flower without its unavoidable death.
They are linked, the love and loss, and that is what makes them precious and beloved. This is why flowers are a perfect symbol and why we make them witnesses of our life and death. They embody the ephemerality of our own existence. And this ephemerality both frightens us and makes us long for them more because we know our lives are the same, if on a different timeline.
It is January and I wanted to acknowledge the losses of last year. I could not let them pass unsaid. I would not dismiss them. I know better now then to try and destroy them because intermingled is all we love. Let us remember. Let us grieve. Let us hold all that is precious close to our hearts and let it make our hearts more gentle and open. Let us place flowers on the graves of all we loved and lost.