The Flower in Her Hair

The Flower in Her Hair

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Flower in Her Hair

She always wore a flower in her hair. Always. Mostly I thought it looked strange. A flower in midday? To work? To professional meetings? She was an aspiring graphic designer in the large, busy office where I worked. Every day she’d sail into the office with its ultramodern crisp decor, wearing a flower in her shoulder-length hair. Usually color-coordinated with her otherwise suitable attire, it bloomed, a small parasol of vivid color, pinned to the large backdrop of dark brunette waves. There were times, like at the company Christmas party, where the flower added a touch of festivity and seemed appropriate. But to work, it just seemed out of place. Some of the more “professionally-minded” women in the office were practically indignant about it, and thought someone ought to take her aside and inform her of the “rules” in being “taken seriously” in the business world. Others among us, myself included, thought it just an odd quirk and privately referred to her as “flower power” or “girl flower.”

“Has flower power completed the preliminary design on the Wal-Mart project?” one of us would ask the other, with a small lopsided smile.

“Of course. It turned out great—her work has really blossomed,” might be the reply, housed in patronizing smiles of shared amusement. We thought our mockery innocent at the time. To my knowledge no one had questioned the young woman as to why a flower accompanied her to work each day. In fact, we probably would have been more inclined to question her had she shown up without it.

Which she did one day. When she delivered a project to my office, I queried. “I noticed there is no flower in your hair today,” I said casually. “I’m so used to seeing you wear one that it almost seems as if something is missing.”

“Oh, yes,” she replied quietly, in a rather somber tone. This was a departure from her usual bright and perky personality. The pregnant pause that followed blared loudly, prompting me to ask, “Are you okay?” Though I was hoping for a “Yes, I’m fine” response, intuitively, I knew I had treaded onto something bigger than a missing flower.

“Oh,” she said softly, with an expression encumbered with recollection and sorrow. “Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death. I miss her so much. I guess I’m a bit blue.”

“I understand,” I said, feeling compassion for her but not wanting to wade into emotional waters. “I’m sure it’s very difficult for you to talk about,” I continued, the business part of me hoping she would agree, but my heart understanding that there was more.

“No. It’s okay, really. I know that I’m extraordinarily sensitive today. This is a day of mourning, I suppose. You see . . .” and she began to tell me the story.

“My mother knew that she was losing her life to cancer. Eventually, she died. I was 15 at the time. We were very close. She was so loving, so giving. Because she knew she was dying, she prerecorded a birthday message I was to watch every year on my birthday, from age 16 until I reached 25. Today is my 25th birthday, and this morning I watched the video she prepared for this day. I guess I’m still digesting it. And wishing she were alive.”

“Well, my heart goes out to you,” I said, feeling a great deal of empathy for her.

“Thank you for your kindness,” she said. “Oh, and about the missing flower you asked about. When I was a little girl, my mother would often put flowers in my hair. One day when she was in the hospital, I took her this beautiful large rose from her garden. As I held it up to her nose so she could smell it, she took it from me, and without saying a word, pulled me close to her, stroking my hair and brushing it from my face, placed it in my hair, just as she had done when I was little. She died later that day.” Tears came to her eyes as she added, “I’ve just always worn a flower in my hair since—it made me feel as though she were with me, if only in spirit. But,” she sighed, “today, as I watched the video designed for me on this birthday, in it she said she was sorry for not being able to be there for me as I grew up, that she hoped she had been a good parent, and that she would like a sign that I was becoming self-sufficient. That’s the way my mother thought—the way she talked.” She looked at me, smiling fondly at the memory. “She was so wise.”

I nodded, agreeing. “Yes, she sounds very wise.”

“So I thought, a sign, what could it be? And it seemed it was the flower that had to go. But I’ll miss it, and what it represents.”

Her hazel eyes gazed off in recollection as she continued. “I was so lucky to have had her.” Her voice trailed off and she met my eyes again, then smiled sadly. “But I don’t need to wear a flower to be reminded of these things. I really do know that. It was just an outward sign of my treasured memories—they’re still there even with the flower gone . . . but still, I will miss it . . . Oh, here’s the project. I hope it meets with your approval.” She handed me the neatly prepared folder, signed, with a hand-drawn flower, her signature trademark, below her name.

When I was young, I remember hearing the phrase, “Never judge another person until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” I thought about all the times I had been insensitive about this young woman with the flower in her hair, and how tragic it was that I had done this in the absence of information, not knowing the young woman’s fate and the cross that was hers to bear. I prided myself on knowing intricately each facet of my company, and knew precisely how each role and function contributed to the next. How tragic for me that I had bought into the notion that a person’s personal life was unrelated to her professional life, and was to be left at the door when entering corporate life. That day I knew that the flower this young woman wore in her hair was symbolic of her outpouring of love—a way for her to stay connected to the young mother she had lost when she herself was a young
girl.

I looked over the project she had completed, and felt honored that it had been treated by one with such depth and capacity for feeling . . . of being. No wonder her work was consistently excellent. She lived in her heart daily. And caused me to revisit mine.

Bettie B. Youngs
From
Gifts of the Heart

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