The Gift and Flowering of Life

I thought that this week I would look at a story that came to mind, that we have often discussed in class. It’s called The Gift. What brought this story to mind was the reflection on silence and sacred space, as well as some of your responses. That silence, hopefully, filters gradually through the many layers of self until we experience our core self as gift, as meaningful word out of the infinite silence enveloping all that is. And we may experience ourselves as called to provide that same sacred space around one another, a space that may seem empty, yet is filled with compassion. This experience is perhaps often crowded out by the hassles of life. We need not feel guilty about that, just grateful if its occasionally emerges.

The story of The Gift is just a few lines long.
In one seat on the bus a wispy old man sat holding a bunch of fresh flowers. Across the aisle was a young woman whose eyes came back again and again to the man’s flowers. The time came for the old man to get off. Impulsively he handed the flowers to the young woman,. “I can see you love the flowers,” he explained, “and I think my wife would like for you to have them. I’ll tell her I gave them to you.” She accepted the flowers, then watched the old man get off the bus and walk through the gate of a small cemetery.

It is like a parable in that the last line evokes surprise and sheds light on the whole preceding narrative. There is no conversation in the story until the old man offers the young woman the flowers. His words come out of his silence, yet also his awareness of the young woman’s appreciation of the flowers. Silence fosters awareness and it is out of such silence that may come more meaningful words.

The gift he gives is most concretely the flowers, but even more so all that they contain. As we discover, they contain the love he has shared with his late wife. They reveal something about the old man as well: the love he has shared with his wife does not end with her death; his loss and grief have not embittered him and diminished his capacity to love. Yet this love is not confined to his wife; it is not an exclusive but an expansive reality. It is not a possession but a living quality within him. Because the capacity to love that he has learned remains in his heart and continues to grow, he shares it with the young woman.

He offers the flowers and then leaves. His love remains, embodied in the flowers, but he does not. This is a simple expression of a genuine love, one that is not possessive or greedy or overly needy. Perhaps that is something we never learn or achieve completely and perhaps only approach on the other side of life’s sorrows.

Besides being expressive of love, flowers also represent the inseparable beauty and brevity of life, as well as its continuous renewal. After a relatively short time flowers fade, but also contain the seeds of their own renewal. The old man has known both the beauty and the brevity of life and love, its joy and its sorrow. With the flowers, he passes that experience along to the young woman, and in the process experiences as well something of its renewal.

Perhaps it is when the man walks into the cemetery that the young woman realizes the extent of the old man’s gift. With the flowers, she receives the love of the old man, and even that of his late wife who would have wanted her to receive them.

Many people have not received the love that would be called for by their sacredness, even in their childhood. And no one person can give that degree of love to another. Still where people lack a tangible expression of love, it can then be very difficult to realize their own sacred worth. There can be an ongoing struggle with self-doubt and even self-rejection, often without conscious awareness. Yet sometimes a surprise gesture, a token of kindness, the beauty of a flower, the colour of a sunset, or the words or melody of a song, can move us to a glimpse and a gentle stirring of hope that pushes in the direction of our own sacred worth.

The basic gift in the story is the reminder and call to awaken to a grateful awareness that life itself–and our own unique life–is a gift, that it combines joy and sorrow, and that it best unfolds within a context of love; a love that is at once deeply personal, yet moves expansively and non possessively in ever widening circles.

May you all realize more fully your own sacred worth. May you experience the caring from a loved one, a gesture of kindness, the world of music or other arts, or the world of nature, and much else, that makes your sacred worth more tangibly real and secure for you.

Norman King, November 2, 2020