Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Problem with Politeness: The Gritty Lily

April. Dusk slips into the city almost unnoticed as a spring shower tiptoes across the collied sidewalk.
The rush from Point A to Point B races against the clock.
There is never enough time.

Impatiently waiting at the crosswalk I hear a man yelling. I can’t make out his words but he’s loud, obstructive perhaps even desperate.
What’s that guy on?

His voice is getting louder. I look down the sidewalk to my right and you see him. He’s a young man, maybe 30, wearing what appears to be pajamas, stained with dirt, rain and who knows what else. His eyes are wild. His hair disheveled and even in the fading light I can see his fingers are blackened. He runs from one person to the next, holding up something in his hand and every time he does the person quickly turns away.
When is the light going to turn? I hope it turns before he gets to me. I don’t want to deal with this shit.

Now he’s heading straight for me. What is in his hand that’s making everyone else run away?
A knife?

The light turns but it’s too late. He’s made eye contact and now he’s right beside me. He raises his hand with a desperate look on his face and in his hand is…
a flower. A flower?
He’s going to try to sell me that flower.

“Do you know what kind of flower this is?” he pleads.
What’s the con? Is he going to ask me to buy it?

In his hand is a torn, dirty, yellow flower; but despite its condition he cradles it ever so gently.
            “No, sorry I don’t.” Because I really don’t know.

            “OK.” he says and continues walking with the green light beside me.
Is that it? He’s not going to ask me to buy it?

Walking beside me, he asks every person he passes the same question he asked me. But every single one of them does what I almost did.
Looks the other way. Holds up their hand in disgust. Crosses the street to avoid him. Some even tell him to ‘f’  off before he can even ask. 

Walking alongside him I can’t help but begin to feel the same things he feels.
Rejection. Judgement. Condemnation.
I may have been polite in looking at his flower, but I wasn’t kind and therefore was no different than even the ones telling him to ‘f’ off right now.
This is wrong.

            “Can you please tell US what kind of flower this is?” I suddenly find myself saying to the next person who passes us.

I am met mostly with mistrust as they look at him, then me in my sharp blazer and matching hat.
But he continues forward, and so do I, forgetting about time or the importance of getting to Point B. For this, this is more important. This is a calling, a calling for kindness amidst the judgement and indifference that only moments ago I was a part of.

Slowly some begin to at least look at the flower now. But not everyone does, some give me the same treatment they gave him, but this just adds fuel to my passion for humanity. I meet their judgment with laughter, a reflection of the irony of their blind condemnation.

I don’t know the purpose of this mission, it just feels like the right thing to do.

The man with the flower looks at me and I see hope in his bloodshot eyes as he realizes that he is no longer invisible. No longer alone.

            “Good evening! Have you ever seen this type of flower before, madam?”

And then it happens, a small crowd of three or four people has gathered around us when a man peeks above all our heads and in a thick foreign accents says,

            “This is a lily!”

            “What is it?” screams the man holding the flower, spinning around to face him.

            “It is a lily. I am sure of it.”

The young man crumples to his knees and begins to sob. The small crowd quickly scatters.

            “Are you alright?” I ask.

            “Am I alright? Am I alright?” he is nearly screaming again, “This flower is a lily. A lily. A beautiful lily. This was my mother’s favorite flower but I never thought to ask her what it was called. And now she’s…gone.” His voice trails off as he gently strokes the lily.

            “I’m sorry. But glad you found your answer.” I said, beginning to walk away feeling changed in some small way I can’t quite put my finger on.

            “Wait!” he screams, “Take it.” He holds the wilted lily up for me to take.

            ‘No, that’s OK, thank you.”


I notice a twinkle in his eye that I’m sure wasn’t there before and accept the lily with the same gentleness he offered it to me.

As I’m walking away he says,
“Do you know what it means when someone gives you a yellow lily?”

            “No, what?”

            “It means you’ve been kissed by an angel.”

Yes, yes I have.

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