Recently as Mothers Day was approaching, I was asked what kind of flowers I was getting for my wife. It seems like this is a question that I get around Valentine’s, anniversaries, birthdays, Columbus Day, Cinco de Mayo, Arbor Day, etc. ahhhhhhh!
Flowers for me are an interesting paradox. I love growing them in my yard, love seeing them in the mountains or deserts, in fact I even know the Latin names of many of them. Yet, something about buying them just doesn’t appeal to me. I assumed for many years that the root (no pun intended) for my flower aversion came from either a financial or a safety perspective. Financial because they are terribly overpriced right when we need them most, and they wilt and die quickly, no matter how many little powder packets are sprinkled in the water. An average bouquet costs roughly the same as a rack of ribs, a pack of steaks, or something that can cheerfully be marinated, basted, and grilled. While using a modicum of money is convenient, true value is established when compared to the currency of barbeque, and flowers wilt in comparison.
Safety, because as a product of the early 90’s, I remember the trauma of formal dances complete with cummerbunds, awkward tuxes that have too many weird snaps and buckles, and seemed to always push on my latest sports bruise or broken bone. The misery and fear only was exacerbated by an equally nervous teenage girl trying to pin on a bulky corsage. The pins on those things are huge, roughly the size and sharpness of the bangs of that era which were stiffened and sharpened to ridiculous points with cans and cans of aerosol hairspray. Dodging the bangs would usually result in a jab from a pin, or vice versa dodging a pin would get me impaled by the bangs. Navigating around other perspiring teenagers in a stuffy lunchroom or gymnasium while avoiding sharp objects, to the perpetual beat of screaming cocaine fueled screamers like Vince Neal, Axel Rose, and Bret Michaels was not a calming atmosphere. This certainly caused my discomfort with flowers to blossom.
However, in church on Sunday, one of my great friends brought up in our lesson that he had awakened to the sounds of a flock of birds outside his window that morning. When he spoke of birds in the morning, I thought immediately of fresh spring smells, bright sunshine, and morning tranquility. However, he went on to say that it brought back crushing memories of the morning more than twenty years ago that his young son was killed, and the accompanying pain. He called it a “trigger,” a psychological reminder of a past event. As he was describing it, I realized that my first memory of flowers came from my father’s funeral when I was four years old. Flowers in nature don’t have the same smell as bouquets, arrangements, and decorations. While others may enjoy the aroma of flower arrangements, for me they all smell like a funeral, they are a trigger. There is a sense linked with loss for me, not comfort as with others. They are linked to separation for me, not closeness.
My religious ontology gives me the comfort in knowing my separation is temporary, that I will see my dad again. My friend harbors the same faith and belief. However, we each have “triggers” in our lives that have associations formed from experiential learning opportunities. They are real, they make up our fabric, and they are a profound opportunity to appreciate life and living. Though painful, they humble us and make us appreciate and identify the strength within ourselves to move beyond. My flower trigger helped me appreciate Mother’s Day like never before as I spent time with my wife and my mom. Their support and love meant more to me because of a powerful trigger reminder of how the absence of support and love felt at a previous time in my life. The pain of a trigger item can in turn trigger profound gratitude, happiness, confidence, and strength as we identify and reflect. Perhaps that is what Timothy was talking about in 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”