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Giving Flowers To Strangers

I had never heard of Jack Webber until a funeral notice in the Daily Telegraph last week which described him as a ‘charmer, clock-collector, wit and Royal Navy Commander’. He had died at 101 but what struck me, was the simple request in the final line of the notice.

It said, ‘To commemorate Jack, please give a bunch of flowers to a complete stranger and tell them they’re absolutely marvellous.’

Maybe it’s because we’re entering the season of goodwill, but I thought I’d give it a try and this week I did. It’s easier said than done.

Armed with a bunch of carnations, walking home from an early meeting on Tuesday, I hesitated before half a dozen complete strangers… then chickened out altogether. It was too weird. What would they take me for?

Eventually I stopped by an elderly man in motorized chair, smoking a roll up. ‘I’ve a gift for you,’ I said, brandishing my bouquet.

‘You don’t know me, mate’ he said. Reasonably enough.

I know, I said but I’ve decided to tell people they’re marvellous and give them some flowers – it’s a long story. He looked at me curiously. I understood.

‘Can I give them to my young lady?’ he asked. I agreed. ‘Well, Merry Christmas to you mate,’ he said.

This was more challenging than I’d imagined but not wanting to give up I decided to go for people who were not complete strangers – like the local Lollipop Lady offering safe passage to children through morning traffic for longer than I can remember.

Her face lit up as I gave her a bunch of roses. She grabbed me in a hug and gave me a kiss. ‘Oh, bless you,’ she said. ‘I only threw mine out yesterday.’

In a café, queuing for a coffee, an elderly woman was clearly at her wits end with another woman nearby, in a wheelchair. I threw her a look of understanding.

‘That’s my mum,’ she told me. ’She’s 98 and I’m her carer. I love her but she can drive me nuts.’

Later I went back with a bunch of chrysanthemums and said I wanted to thank her for looking after her mum.

There’s a Quaker saying that ‘An enemy is a friend whose story we have not heard.’ The same could be true of any stranger.

My friend Pip, who’s spent his life working with people that others write off as lost causes, says everyone is a BHP – a beautiful human person.

For all our faults and failings, he sees the image of the divine in every face.

Or as the ancient Psalmist puts it, ‘We are fearfully and wonderfully made.’

The approaching season of goodwill could just as easily be called the season of marvellous.

A time to stop, notice and cherish each other. Strangers and friends.

I wouldn’t recommend approaching total strangers with a bunch of flowers but maybe Christmas is just the moment for some unexpected act of generosity – that makes someone else feel special.

That could be marvellous.

(Thought For The Day, BBC Radio 4, Saturday December 10th, 2016)