"If there were a party of those who aren't sure they're right, I'd belong to it." Albert Camus
I recently came across a beautiful line, courtesy of Yury Trifonov (and translator Helen P. Burlingame). Describing a gardener’s efforts to maintain his patch of dahlias and irises and lilacs over the years, the author tells us that after the prolonged hopelessness and adversity of “the war… people did start asking for flowers once again.”*
Snug at home where we don’t see the hardship or horror of wars waged in our name, and with a roof over my head and food on the table, it seems more than a little precious to put myself in the place of Trifonov’s gardener, who during the fighting could take no comfort from the potatoes and radishes grown instead of flowers; the new crops helped a few people eke out some sustenance, but provided no beauty or warmth. Still, I have to wonder just what it’ll take before the present world— obsessed, in my country’s case, with its own security at the expense of others’ humanity, with speed and efficiency and profit over relationships and real connection, with maintenance of the status quo over compassion and a fearless determination to uphold the dignity of every last person on this planet— looks up, stops the bickering and hatred and pettiness, fixes longstanding problems, and starts asking for simple joys.
Humanity’s never been very good at doing that, really; and even in Trifonov’s story, the comfort that allows one city’s inhabitants to “start asking for flowers once again” doesn’t keep them from behaving selfishly or worse. But I have to remember the power, even if symbolic, of frail, colored petals: of Banksy’s protester about to launch a bouquet; or of courageous, vulnerable individuals and groups offering flowers to soldiers. If people start asking for— or handing out or throwing— flowers (again), it might mean they— we— are ready to hope, at least, for something better. And that’s a start.
*The line is from “The Long Goodbye,” in Yury Trifonov, The Exchange & Other Stories
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1991), 108.
**(Disclosure: This post was migrated from my now-defunct Tumblr blog.)