I’ve always thought that those who work at ice cream or florist shops must have perpetually happy days. There’s something about a golden cone overflowing with heaping scoops of ice cream, or paper brimming with beautiful flowers from the neighborhood Blumen shop that puts one in a cheery mood!
For a time, I developed my own ritual whenever I passed the rows of beautiful blooms – a gesture intended to bring cheer to unsuspecting individuals. The first time I gave flowers to a stranger was on a Saturday plentiful with errands in Heidelberg, Germany’s Altstadt or ‘old town’. I had stopped into a Persian carpet store to drop off a small carpet I’d recently acquired from Bahrain, for minimal repairs.
The Persian woman about to repair my carpet had wrinkled bags and blood-shot, teary eyes that signaled that she also had a heavy heart. I noticed the sign in the window signifying that the business was set to close and I asked her if she and her husband were retiring.
“No,” she said. “My husband has terminal cancer.”
I looked at the gentleman dressed in a charcoal-grey suit; his frailness and pale skin aged him beyond his years. The couple appeared to be in their early sixties. The woman proceeded to tell me how many years they had been married. She bragged about their children and grandchildren. Then, matter-of-factly, she told me when I could pick up my carpet.
I left feeling overwhelmed with emotion. Despite her husband’s poor health, it was business as usual for this woman. I thought of all the beautiful Persian rugs at which I had marveled earlier in the day – their shared price tags certainly amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. I thought how we are sometimes so overwhelmed by material trappings and life’s daily stressors that we miss out on what’s most important in life.
I proceeded through my day’s errands until the appointed pick-up time at the rug shop. On my way there, I stopped by a florist shop across the street to purchase a bouquet of flawless creamy tulips – one of my favorite springtime indulgences. A bouquet of roses the same color as my tulips caught my eye. I purchased both bouquets then skipped across the street to the carpet shop. When I walked inside, the shopkeeper made small-talk about my rug. Then as I was about to depart, I handed her the bouquet of vanilla-colored roses. Her eyes looked like they were about to water. Soon, there came a trickle of happy, delicate tears.
She asked me if I would like to have a cup of coffee with her.
“Of course,” I said.
I complimented her on the sugar cubes, which resembled symbols on a deck of cards. With a childlike spirit, she took her tin of sugar cubes and proceeded to prepare a bag of miniature sugared hearts, spades and diamonds for me to take home. We had our coffee break while sitting atop a rainbow-like spectrum of silk carpets.
I had forgotten about this wonderful encounter until some months later. It had been a stressful week, and I rushed to my hair cut appointment at Moda Capelli. After getting my hair coiffed, I crossed the street to pass the floral shop I regularly patronized.
A grouping of pure white gladiolas caught my eye. As I looked for the best bunch to grace my dining room table, a German woman struck up a conversation with me. Our words exchanged weren’t very extensive but the woman stated how pretty the corner shop’s flowers were and how, in the coming days, it would be the anniversary of her father’s death.
I proceeded to ask her what her favorite color was.
“Rosa,” she indicated. I clutched a bouquet of shrimp-colored roses and hurried to the counter. Unfortunately by the time the transaction was complete, the woman had already jumped onto the streetcar. Determined to share the second bouquet of flowers with another deserving stranger I headed to Galleria Kaufhof, a German department store situated at Heidelberg’s transportation hub and town square, Bismarckplatz. By the restroom sinks, an elderly woman on crutches asked me to assist her with something. Unfortunately, my limited German did not allow me to fully comprehend what she was requesting. Another German woman came to the rescue and helped the woman put the strap of her purse in a comfortable position so the woman with the weathered and wise face could wash her hands.
As I was about to leave the restroom, I asked the woman if she had always lived in Heidelberg. She replied that she had. We struck up polite small-talk and then I surprised her by handing her the pink roses . She juggled the bouquet carefully between her worn hand and crutch handle and said, “I cannot accept these.” I told her that the flowers were to wish her a happy day. She looked as though she was about to cry and said something about having turned 85 two months earlier, so the flowers would be a belated present. She grasped my hand and we smiled at each other. We couldn’t find anyone to translate, but words weren’t really needed at that moment.
I have often been amazed at how a random act of kindness can spawn similar gestures. The woman with the dying husband reciprocated with a coffee break, delicately-cut sugar cubes and tears of happiness. The elderly woman on crutches gave back by generously tipping the surprised restroom attendant outside the door of our meeting place. Flowers wished my random acquaintances happy days. Their smiles brought me the same reward.