How not to say it with flowers May 26, 2009Posted by Jane Matthews in Uncategorized.
Tags: acts of kindness, flowers, happy toy, nursing home, smile
Inspired by the story of the smiling man I told you about, I thought I might try smiling at strangers today.
Except it immediately becomes clear there is a time and a place… and wandering through the shopping centre trying to catch folk’s eyes in order to throw them a smile bigger than the national debt is a bit, well, strange. Far from making their day my unexplained grinning simply seems to make people uncomfortable. Some of them even furtively check themselves over, in case I’m really smirking because they’ve got toilet paper caught in their waistbands.
brickbats and bouquets
So for now I abandon the idea that a smile is the shortest distance between two people. In the wrong hands it’s clearly has precisely the opposite effect.
I have an alternative plan, which the smiling man story also put me in mind of. He wanted to give comfort to the dying. The only death I have seen was my uncle’s, after a decade living with cancer. He spent his last month in a nursing home where I would sit with him every day. But there were plenty of others in the nursing home who never seemed to see anyone.
So I decide I’ll get some flowers and drop by and ask the staff to give them to someone who doesn’t get visitors.
say what with flowers?
It takes me almost half an hour to make up my mind which bunch to buy. I can’t help associating lillies with funerals and that’s not the message I want to send. The wonderful orange and green bouquet has red berries too and if I think they look good enough to eat someone else might.
So I splash out on a glorious purple and white bouquet which smell like a cottage garden and look like a little piece of summer. I also spend a couple of quid on a few stems of delicate pink sweet peas thinking they’ll be a useful bribe for whoever I asked to present my gift at the nursing home. If they havetheir own flowers maybe they won’t be tempted to keep the ones meant for a patient. (I can’t decide whether thinking that way detracts from my gesture or is just realistic.)
And you are?
Now to the difficult bit.
I arrive at Highclere Nursing Home and there’s a chap staring out of the window at me. I send him one of the full beams I’ve been practicing and it seems now is the right time and place because he beams right back and points excitedly at the flowers in a ‘someone’s in for a nice suprise’ kind of way.
I’m buzzed in and realise I’m only going to get to see the receptionist rather than one of the care staff . That’s what you get from choosing to go private.
But I’m committed (which is probably what the receptionist is thinking when I blurt out the lines I’ve rehearsed).
“I thought I’d like to bring these flowers for someone who doesn’t get many visitors or gifts. Do you have anyone like that here?”
The receptionist nods cautiously. “Well yes…”
I’m definitely feeling uncomfortable, but determined. “Perhaps you’d be kind enough to choose someone to give the flowers to then?” I hand over the sweet peas too. “And these are for you as a thank you for doing that.”
The receptionist takes the flowers from me, completely bemused. This has never happened to her before. Despite the fact that googling ‘acts of kindness’ brings up one million, three hundred and eighty thousand results, despite the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people encouraging, practicing and recommending random acts of kindness. Wherever my fellow experimenters are, they have not apparently reached this quiet corner of Milton Keynes.
More is needed. The receptionist does not move or speak; she will not release the door until I give her at least some sort of explanation.
So I mention my uncle. He was here. Nine years ago. And liked it (that’s a lie; he hated having to leave his flat and his cats but if I tell her that she’ll think I’ve injected some sort of noxious allergenic into the bouquet). I ramble on a bit longer about seeing the flowers and loving how good they smell and wanting to share that with someone.
She nods and I leave. I have absolutely no idea if she will do what I’ve ask or make a different decision about where the bouquet belongs.
The trouble is, this short episode has not left me feeling good but somehow dissatisfied.
I don’t know if that’s because the reader and writer in me always wants to know how a story ends. If I’m just unused to this notion of paying kindness forward, instead of seeing it as I must always have done – as a two way transaction in which kindness is rewarded with thanks. Or because I have a vague sense that if the flowers make it to a lonely somone, and if that were me, I might want to meet the person behind the act of kindness. That my pleasure in receiving the gift would be more because the gesture would then be more human.
That’s the point of an experiment I suppose. To try things until it works. And even though I am a little confused by it all I am able to congratulate myself on nudging the edge of my comfort zone this time.