I am a florist from Hello Flowers!
And I face with death every day.
The beautiful cut flowers that we used are all going to die within 3-10 days. Hence, we do our best in their last days to maximize their life and arrange them to look their finest. That’s the role that flowers play in our lives.
As morbid as it sounds, that’s how life is. How life works and there is little we can do to change its outcome. We just have to embrace it.
“I love flowers but they just don’t last.”
“Isn’t it a waste that they live and they die after a short period of time?”
“How can we keep the flowers to last forever?
I’ve heard all these numerous times. Those questions always left me speechless. But it also got me reflecting.
Do we always have to measure an item’s worth by how long it can last? Do we love something less because it doesn’t have a long time to live? Do we invest less (money and time) in something because it’s going to die?
Life as a florist has taught me so many things and I’ve learnt so much from them.
ON BEAUTY AND DECAY
A flower bloom from an ugly brown bud to a beautiful colourful flower slowly through time. It will go through shedding, withering, turning brown and slow decay. The truth is that there’s so much beauty in the evolution process. There’s so much beauty even at the last stage.
I have strategically chosen Chinatown to be the place where I will set up my studio. It is located underneath blocks of rental flats where I was volunteering with since I left my social work job. I volunteered because I wanted to still be in touch with the sector. In the event when my business fails, I am still employable. Little did I know that once I stepped foot into Chinatown, it became really hard to leave. I visit two groups of seniors in Chinatown on a regular basis. One in the rental flats and the other group at the Chinatown Visitor Centre where the seniors gather to play chess and chit chat.
Over the years, I have witnessed many of the old folks degenerating in health and slowly fade away. They all have had their glorious (or infamous) days akin to that of a colourful flower, leading a really productive life.
Some of them were business “towkay” (boss). A number of them had many wives and flings. Some others worked hard to support their siblings when they were much younger.
At present, these colourful petals have fallen and turned brown. Many of them are just hanging out in public spaces hoping to connect with someone through some form of human interactions. One of them has slowly lost her memory. Many of them are living one day at a time. In their own perception, they felt that they are no longer beautiful and colourful.
Little did they know that I enjoyed the stories they have shared. Their enriching experiences had enabled me to be smarter and taught me to avoid making similar mistakes. They have given me knowledge beyond my peers (which gave me LOTS of cool conversation starters) and gave me insights to navigate my life more successfully. They taught me grit and hopefully not to have regrets (they have a lot -_-“)
As a florist, we try to keep flowers in the fridge. We feed them flower food, cut their stems and change the water once every two to three days. These are what I teach to our new florists. And these process discipline are essential being a florist.
When we can no longer extend their lives, we try to dry them so that they can retain as much of their original life as possible. We will try to repackage and sell them as dried/ preserved flowers which will seemingly last forever. But the truth is that dried flowers are also slowly decomposing, which is why you always see dust around dried flowers. However, I don’t think it will fully decompose within our lifetime.
In today's super fast-paced world, we falsely try to keep something as long as effortlessly as possible. We crave for perfection but do not want to spend too much time on it.
However, plants and flowers are things in life that would only turn out well when time and all the other elements are present Plants would not grow without water, sun, and light. Flowers cannot last longer without us spending time and discipline to condition them. To make matters worse, we can be doing all the right things to keep them alive, only to learn that they can still choose to die on us! (irkksssssss!) The only thing we can do is try again and experiment with what might help the plants & flowers to live longer. Because there is always the next time, I am always so thankful that we get second chances with them.
I’ve learned from flowers and my past relationships – that nothing lasts forever. Things that usually matters to us will definitely need a lot more attention and effort. There are no short cuts in conditioning flowers and there are no short cuts to growing plants. It is like setting up a family or caring for our parents. We can outsource some tasks to others, but developing those relationships requires us to be present and to have the discipline to make the effort. There are things in life in which once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Unlike flowers or plants, we may not have a second chance to make it right.
Hopefully, like the dried and preserved flowers, what we have left behind are beautiful and colourful memories of what was there then. Even though now it may be gone.
ON PURPOSE IN LIFE
Would my life only count if I live a long life? Would it be sufficient if I live life as purposeful as I made it be but a short one? Should I expect my life and what I do to be long-lasting? Is life only worthwhile if life is colourful?
The truth is that I have been living life precariously through developing this business. I have learned from my flower business that one day, Hello Flowers! might wind up and I am unable to save it no matter how much I try.
Many people have asked if I am willing to let go of Hello Flowers! They commented on how much of a waste it is to give up. I asked myself that all the time too - can I let my baby go? Have I tried hard enough to help HF! reach its full potential? HF! is not really that scalable, how am I helping more people? How can I sustain when the industry is so saturated? What will happen to all my colleagues if my business fails?
I remembered once during Year 2 of running the business, I was trying to google quotable sayings to post on Instagram with our flowers. I saw this quote by Zen Shin –
“A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms.”
It’s so true, isn’t it? A flower just blooms. A flower just tries its best to survive. To help pollinate other flowers so that they can bear fruits. After it blooms, it just fades away. No fanfare. No cries for legacy.
I have learned to live every day as though it is my last day on Earth. Every extra day I have is used to bring smiles to others, avoid disappointing our customers or to be kind to people around me. When the doors of life start closing on me no matter how hard I try to stop it, it may be time for the business to gradually wind down and fade away.
There’s always a season for everything in life. Even when the flowers die, new ones start to grow in replacement. The cycle repeats, season after season, years after years. I have learned to fulfill the role that I am called to perform as a fellow human being on earth. To love others (especially the unloved), to give when I have more and to promote justice when there’s just so much inequality. Even though my efforts might be little, it doesn’t really matter because I don’t really need to compete on who can love more, who can help more, who can give more.
I just do me.