Will You Buy Me Flowers? A Moment of Shared Humanity
Will You Buy Me Flowers?
A Moment of Shared Humanity
by Lauren Spahn
Connection has the remarkable capacity to transform our perception of ourselves, of others, and of the greater web of humanity in which we all share a part. In the truest sense of the word, connection shows up in many different shapes, sizes, and forms. Yet when we conceive of connection in our culture, we tend to focus the discourse around deeply woven, long-term relationships grounded in history and loyalty. In my experience, however, it is often the many moments of connection that have been just that—moments, fleeting in nature—that truly illuminate and, therefore, hold the capacity to transform our perception.
My train lurches to a halt at Boston’s South Station. In need of some fresh air before embarking on the next leg of my journey, I step outside and am greeted by the local farmer’s market.
I naturally gravitate towards the flower stand. Buying myself flowers is one of my routine practices of self-love, and apparently I’m craving some. But the pragmatist in me doubts that they’ll fare well on my six-hour flight home, so I head over to the food truck stationed at the edge of the plaza near the park.
With a rice bowl in hand, I grab a set of chopsticks and seek out a cozy spot on the lawn to drop my bags and take a seat. I begin to watch the urban scene unfolding before me. It is dynamic to say the least. I watch commuters walking as quickly as their legs can carry them and drivers anxiously tapping their hands on the steering wheel. I see a homeless man sleeping in the far corner of the park and the BudLight girl setting up a small outdoor bar for happy hour. I notice a woman in a blue sweatshirt and red hat carrying a garbage bag, half-full, in one hand and a small bag of dog food in the other. As I begin to speculate the contents of her garbage bag, our eyes meet. And as though my inner dialogue has been projected across the park in this fleeting moment, she cuts across the lawn heading towards me.
Suddenly, this woman is directly in front of me. She drops her bag, puts her hand out, and introduces herself: “Hi, I’m Linda.” In a scattered attempt to conceal my surprise and slight disorientation at her approach, I awkwardly drop my chopsticks and receive her hand replying, “Hi, Linda. I’m Lauren. It’s nice to meet you.” Maintaining eye contact with a fierce intensity, she moves to take a seat in the bright red Adirondack chair behind me. I’m confused yet there is something in her eyes that draws me in, so I shift my positioning to face her. My confusion further befuddles me. My work in social justice informs my understanding – intellectually at least – of the inherent value of connection. Yet here, I’m stumbling.
She begins to ask me questions about myself, and, in the process, she inserts snippets about her own life. I try to discern how, exactly, I got into this conversation. My assumption that this woman is deeply lacking connection in her life surfaces a sadness within me. And in the shadows of that sadness is shame.
Who am I to judge this person before me?
Practice presence, I remind myself. Presence is love.
Linda continues to drive our conversation with beautifully deliberate and profoundly genuine questions. She asks if I go to church; I say that I am deeply spiritual, but that I don’t go to church. She shares that she doesn’t go to church either and that her boyfriend says it’s just an excuse for people to dress up, see, and be seen. As we both laugh, I feel a spark of connection with her.
She asks another question, I answer and she shares. Our dialogue continues with this cadence and we find a deeper space of connection with each exchange:
I’m from Chicago, have one younger sister, and two loving parents who have dedicated themselves to us even though 17 years of marriage failed them. Linda is from Vermont, was in the foster care system as a child, and the moment she turned 18 she was left to survive without family (or anyone) to support her.
I moved to Boston 10 years ago for my first job out of college. She bought a bus ticket to Boston 5 years before that in search of one. Since then, work has moved me to Haiti and now California; she has been homeless three times yet re-established a home for herself each time and currently lives in Section VIII housing.
We share a frustration with the health care system and how challenging it is to navigate, though my primary interface is for birth control and hers is the chronic management of HIV.
She loves her neighbor’s two pups (hence the bag of dog food she is carrying), and I can’t wait to go home to snuggle my German Shepard (I share a photo).
We both find walks by the water to be centering and marvel together over the beautiful forms of community we each have in our lives.
As we talk, I observe the darting of her eyes, the twitching of her hands, the shaking of her legs, and I wonder the extent of the health complications – physical and mental – with which she grapples. My sadness re-emerges. Linda does not explicitly identify her experiences as suffering, but I receive them as that. I wonder if that’s fair of me and question how much of this perception is shaped by my own experiences of suffering and bearing witness to the suffering of others.
And as though our thoughts are pacing along the same track, she suddenly states: “A lot of people must judge you.” I pause, taken aback, yet again. For the first time, I think of what I must look like to her – with my gladiator sandals, high-waisted jeans, trendy floral jacket, and embroidered bag sitting here in the park eating my food truck meal. As I laugh my ego aside, a smile spreads across my face, and I respond, “Yes, probably.” I’m inspired by her honesty and curious as to whether she perceives my interaction to be misaligned with my image.
I am struck by how our mutual openness and curiosity has allowed us to discover such a depth of connection. Despite the vast differences that exist between Linda and me, we’re able to uncover the honesty and humility of our shared humanity simply by listening and sharing. Presence is a practice of the heart. And my heart has been unexpectedly opened by this exchanged.
I glance at the clock and realize an hour has passed. I say to Linda, “I’m sad about ending our conversation, but it is time for me to leave for the airport.” Her response isn’t a formed sentence, but somehow conveys disappointment within understanding.
As I stand to gather my bags, I feel moved to ask her: “Linda, is there anything I can do for you before I leave?” She pauses, fumbles around with her belongings, and then says: “Can I have your phone number?” I pause, trying to unpack the source of my hesitation, and eventually decide to embrace the vulnerability of this connection. “Of course,” I say. As I go to tear a piece of paper out of a new journal I have, I wonder if she might have value in the journal itself as well. When I ask, her gratitude is palpable, so I write my name and number on the front page, remove some of my notes in the back, and hand her the journal.
I’m throwing my bag over my shoulder as she says, “You know…there is one other thing you might do for me.” “What is that?” I ask, turning my body to face her squarely. “I love flowers so much and am never able to have them…” My heart brims over with joy as I hear her words. I just about interrupt her trailing statement to say: “I would love to buy you flowers.” §
Lauren Spahn is a writer, yoga teacher, and birth doula. She has a background in facilitation and project development as well as non-profit communications and management. Whether teaching, writing, or witnessing, she stays tethered to her call to hold space for the healing and transformative power of presence and community to unfold.