For the past three or four years I have helped to prepare and deliver plants and flowers at our local flower shop on Valentine’s Day. It’s a long and hectic day but fun in a lot of ways. We get to surprise people and bring a bit of happy color into their lives in the middle of winter. I love to watch their reactions, and there’s where I learned a thing or two this Valentine’s Day.
Some people, surprisingly, act a little bored when you bring them flowers. No smile, just a look that says, “Oh, the dozen roses again”. Maybe they are just not the type of people who show much emotion, and hopefully they act a little happier and more grateful when thanking the giver of the roses.
Then there are those people who seem so totally shocked and either smile from ear to ear or try to hold back the tears. I love giving flowers to these types of people because they are so deeply touched.
What stood out for me this year though were a few of the older women who received flowers. They were probably gifts from their children, and this is probably an annual tradition, but that didn’t seem to diminish the joy these particular women received from the gift. These women came to the door looking so beautiful – dressed like they cared about themselves, hair nicely styled, some make-up on but not “over the top”, and , most of all, a beautiful smile and a cheerful greeting. The women I’m talking about were in their seventies and eighties (and the only reason I know this is because I know how old their children are), and I’m sure they had some wrinkles and age spots, but I sure didn’t notice them, and there’s where I learned something.
I obsess sometimes over every little thing that is “wrong” with me, every change I see in the mirror that tells me I am getting older. These women, probably 20-25 years older than me, seemed beautiful and vibrant. Possibly (and probably), they had gone through times of self-criticism and sadness over lost youth, but they seemed to have emerged from that stage with confidence, grace, and appreciation for life. It made me determined to smile more and live a life of gratitude (and always be presentable so when someone sends me flowers I can look like that when I answer the door).
The day after Valentine’s Day I went to the grocery store, and that day there happened to be a few people in the store with physical handicaps. Although I don’t personally know the people I saw, I know a little of their stories, and I know their handicaps were not something they were born with, but were a result of disease and strokes. None of these people were riding the motorized carts available in the store (and there would have been nothing wrong with them using the carts – thankfully they are there for people who need them), but were pushing their carts with some difficulty or with a cane under one arm.
I watched these people in the check-out line, greeting people and smiling, and taking their groceries out of the cart, and later taking them out to their cars themselves. I was struck by how adaptable people are, and also by the fact that it is largely our attitudes in life that determine what our lives are like. These people quite possibly went through a time of grief and sadness, but they were now a source of inspiration as they went about their daily lives doing what they could with what they had. I noticed their disabilities, but more than that, I noticed their countenance and their determination.
We all have an effect on those around us, more than we realize. People everywhere are dealing with something, and it’s how we look at that something that determines what our lives will be like and how we will affect the people in our lives. It reminds me of a quote by Charles Swindoll that I first read many years ago:
“The longer I live the more I realize the importance of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past, we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you. . . we are in charge of our attitudes.”