Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I gave flowers to strangers

Never Done: Handed out flowers to strangers

I loved that day in the Fall when I put little presents in people's gym lockers, and then didn't stick around to see people discover them. So I decided to do something similar but different: offer beautiful presents to people in person. I went to the a bodega and bought a dozen yellow roses. And then I walked down 7th Avenue Brooklyn, and offered them to the first people I saw, one stem at a time.

Now I don't want to go all racial/gender profiling on you here, but no white men took them. I am serious. White women took them. Black women took them. Black men took them. Arab men took them. Latina women took them. Latino men took them. Children took them. But no white men took them. White men weren't the only people who passed them by, but I'd say an informal estimate is that 12% of all people declined, whereas 100% of white men passed up the chance to take a yellow rose from me! Mostly these guys declined with pinched embarrassed smiles and a quickened step, whereas one woman who sounded Russian said she was sad she couldn't accept because she wasn't going to be home soon, and why was I doing this, and how did I think of it and thank you. One Arab man took one, thanked me, and then called after me after I went down the block, pointing to his friend in the car, and calling, "He would like one too, please!" His friend waved to me. One elderly man too one and said he'd give it to his wife. A school girl, who got the last flower, shouted to her friend with whom she had just parted, "That lady just gave me a flower!"

The idea was that I would offer the flowers to the first people who crossed my path, with no censorship. I didn't want to assume or influence who might and who might not want a flower, but I secretly assumed that everyone would. But as I stood there with a bunch of yellow roses, and asked people, "Would you like a flower?" and saw the fear and avoidance in the people who were fearful and avoidant, and I wondered (because this is a mussar practice) what might be going on for the other -- what might their flower-rejecting burden be, I realized they might think I was baiting them into a religious cult. I wanted to say, "It's just because! It's just a flower!" but I held my tongue. A few people asked me why I was giving them away, and I said, "Because I want to." But once the flower cult thing got into my brain, I felt vaguely dirty, like maybe I did have a secret agenda. But the only way out was through, and I so I kept offering until all but one were gone, and then I asked myself if I wanted a yellow rose, and I discovered that I did. So I took the last one home.