Last week, something unexpected happened at work. A colleague and I were walking back to our office from a meeting and he stopped to smell the flowers along the way. Literally.
Now, I know that the expression was popularized as ‘stop and smell the roses’ following Ringo Starr’s album of the same name in the early 80’s, but the expression is generally credited to American professional golfing figure Walter Hagen. He said “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”
Stopping to smell the flowers (or the roses) is both literal and metaphorical advice. We generally equate it to taking a moment out of our day-to-day busy-ness to enjoy the beauty in nature that is all around us. For some of us that might be traveling somewhere and hiking in the mountains to feel the clear air in our lungs and admire the wondrous views from those heights, for some it might be walking beside the ocean and listening to the endless crashing of waves along the shore, for some of us it might be strolling through our neighborhood or our own yard to see the changes in the plants and flowers from week to week, as the seasons change.
I love flowers. I have since I was a kid. I love cut flowers, I love flowers growing in the garden including annuals and perennial flowering shrubs and trees. And whenever I do take time, to smell the flowers, it makes me feel closer to my childhood, to an innocent time when I didn’t understand life’s fragility, and it helps me appreciate the privilege of this existence, and all of its beauty and wonder.
My grandmother loved orchids. She grew cymbidiums, often called ‘boat’ orchids. They were beautiful and my grandfather was forever following her instructions for relocating the potted orchids – outside the house, inside the house, different rooms of the house – it was a process. And the results were breathtaking.
My grandmother also loved daphne (Daphne Odora) shrubs, or ‘bushes’ as she called them. We moved house when I was eight years old but I can still remember that beautiful daphne at our old house. It grew right outside our front door and on warm, summer nights, the fragrance would find its way through our open window to the bedroom I shared with my sister. Whenever my grandmother visited, she would always ‘clip a few sprigs’ to take home with her. She would always claim it was the ‘best daphne bush’ she’d ever seen (or smelled).
At our new house, (despite many attempts by my mother and father) daphne never worked. But there were other flowers, other trees. Every year, my father would carefully tend to the jacaranda tree he’d planted, hoping that this year would be the one it would flower. I cannot recall now how many years it took, but I do know that when I drive past that house in summer, which I am apt to do, ever since my parent’s sold the place several years ago, the jacaranda blooms are splendid.
Several years ago, when working in another city, I traveled to work by train. I had a short walk from my home to the train station, and walked through a small neighborhood park each day. In the middle of that park stood one of the largest jacaranda trees that I have ever seen. I still remember one particular morning, on my way to work, it was barely daylight, and after a night of wind and heavy rain, the vision of that tree, all of its blooms lost to the lilac carpet beneath. It took my breath away. Some would see a mess; I saw nostalgia, bitter sweet melancholy, the exquisite beauty of impermanence.
So the unexpected act I saw last week – my colleague, stopping to smell the gardenias that grow right outside our office – should perhaps not have been so unexpected. Afterall, I have actually stopped at that very spot myself and have done the same thing… I even took a photo of that gardenia in bloom this time last year.
This simple act, stopping to smell the flowers, that my colleague took, reminded me not just of the importance of taking time out to enjoy the beauty of nature, taking time out to recall my own connections to my childhood and my family, but also to understand and appreciate that those I work with, are doing the very same in their day. And perhaps as I take time to smell the flowers from now on, I will appreciate and connect not just to nature, not just to my own memories and feelings of life’s fleeting joys, but also to the common experience we are all having when we stop to smell the roses, and in this shared act, the connection we have with one another.