Toronto Star column – published October 18, 2014
In Lieu of Flowers: Vote
“Flowers… are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1844
Trolling through the obituaries of the newspaper is always interesting. There, in the shortest of reports, a life is summarized according to their relatives, education, occupation, their keenest interests in life [‘loved gardening and playing bridge’] and sometimes a little salutation that drives me nuts: in lieu of flowers. You never read, “In lieu of a casket…” but people get cremated all of the time thereby eliminating the need for one [and the cost].
Perhaps, at some level, giving to a charity instead of sending flowers makes sense, the same way that naming a giant ice rink a ‘garden’ makes sense [think: Maple Leaf Gardens, from my July 11th article “Dreaming up important election questions” http://www.thestar.com/life/homes/2014/07/11/dreaming_up_important_election_questions.html] but the idea of it offends the whole notion of sending flowers in the first place.
Flowers are donated at a funeral not so that the dead may enjoy them but to celebrate the life that recently passed. Flowers represent, by their very essence, life. They smell nice and look gorgeous singly or in a bouquet. But much more than that, they attract pollinators and work in symbiosis with the natural world around them to sustain a living system that helps to support us – a part of this living system. They were grown from a seed that came from a flower. It sprouted, developed some infrastructure like stems and leaves and eventually produced this colourful thing whose sole purpose in life is to produce seed so the plant can reproduce and the species can carry on for another generation.
Why do we give flowers?
We give flowers at a time of death not for the benefit of the dead but to support and encourage the living. Flowers are the ultimate celebration tool. You can have your cake, candles, a bottle of wine, any gift that you can name, but nothing substitutes for flowers when the going gets tough. It is not that flowers say it all, as many people do not get the significance of them, obviously [or we wouldn’t have this ‘in lieu of’ problem in the first place]. Flowers celebrate life and living; the interminable cycle of seasons that has turned since the beginning of time and will continue to turn long after we are gone.
One thing for sure, when I am gone there will not be an ‘in lieu of flowers’ statement at the end of my obit.
But if there were, it would read, ‘in lieu of flowers: vote’. Why? It is important. In fact, what could be more important? It is free, it supports a system that is the best that we have come up with so far and if you don’t vote, you end up with the government that you deserve.
It always shocks me when the results come out after an election. Not ‘who got in’ so much as who didn’t show up to vote. The numbers are appalling, especially in municipal elections. Thirty percent would be a good number. Ugggh.
Where I come from voting is compulsory. I was raised in a Baptist family where there was no shortage of guilt laid on us from an early age. “Why do you think we fought in The War?” my Dad would say when the subject came up. Not that HE fought in the war, but a lot of people did and that was reason enough for him. “So you could vote!” he roared.
I have since grown up and seen life from several different angles. I have not been the most loyal of the flock [e.g. I married an Anglican] but I still see the merit in believing in an afterlife. The Baptists refer to it as ‘glory’ and ‘paradise’ among other things.
The word paradise comes from the Persian word that describes a garden, a royal garden at that. I may have trouble imagining life after death precisely but I can imagine a garden without much effort at all as I live in one now. I see the Big One as weedless, the apples never requiring pest or disease control, and this garden is always in bloom.
Which brings me nicely back to ‘in lieu of flowers’. If everyone who reads my obit would just get out and vote then they will have done my memory a great service. I admire anyone who runs for office and all of the people who volunteer to get them there. It takes time, effort and money to run in an election. It takes guts, too. Not all of us want to have our lives, moral standards, and our income and investments reviewed in detail by a generally nosey and ungrateful public. Thank goodness many people do. Some of them are quite worthy of the job that they are running for. It is up to us, the voters, to determine who those people are and winnow out the unqualified candidates by not voting for them. It is a simple system but it only works when we are engaged in the process. And when we vote.
There is one other thing that I wish people to seriously consider when they read my obit. I would like them to seriously consider giving blood. This is another thing that costs us nothing to give but less than 5% of us will do it in our lifetime. When you do, you can save a life or two.
Think about that. You take an hour of your time to lie down on a comfy ergonomic bed, watch CP24, be pampered by attendant nurses, fed Peek Frean cookies and juice, and receive a very big and sincere Thank You as you exit. All that you leave behind is a pint of the good stuff. And speaking of guilt, the best way to purge it is to give something of yourself to someone else. Bingo. Blood.
My Mom asked me once why I didn’t attend the Baptist church any more. I told her that I attended the United Church because they would take anyone, including her wayward son. “That is why they call it United, Mom.” That was the end of that conversation.
Many people who are not Baptist are raised with a pint of guilt in their blood, too. No matter our religion, it is instilled in us at a young age by unwitting adults who don’t mean any harm. And it was adults who came up with the idea that giving something in lieu of flowers at the time of death is a good idea. Well, Mother Nature had another idea when she created flowers. She made them so they would not last and she made them to attract partners in the cycle of life through their shear, natural beauty. They are simple and complex at the same time. Like life. Everyone who deserves to be fondly remembered deserves to have their life celebrated with flowers.
I want my obit to read: ‘In lieu of flowers, send flowers. In lieu of the latter, vote and give blood.’
Election time is right around the corner. Remember to vote.