Not very long ago, when I went to our local post office to buy a couple of rolls of stamps, I noticed a display of flower stamps. Putting my mouth close to the inch-thick partition, I asked the postal clerk, “Do you have those? My husband loves flowers.”
Reaching for the little booklets of stamps imprinted colorfully with lilies, zinnias, gladioli, marigolds, and roses, the clerk told me that every man who’d come in to buy stamps had wanted some of those too.
“But they always say, ‘They’re for my girlfriend,’ ‘They’re for my sister,’ or ‘They’re for my mother.’ I can’t understand why not a single man will admit he likes flowers.”
I thought about that. In my family, my husband is the garden-lover. When we first married, he turned our front yard from a weed-infested eyesore into a fairyland of miniature roses, border iris, and flowering ground cover, invitingly divided by a curvy brick walkway. He always grabs my arm so I’ll slow down and appreciate the flowers instead of rushing past them on my way to the car.
Some time later, we were watching a documentary when I discovered why I rush past the garden. The program was about two men whose accidental brain damage had caused them not to recognize familiar things, including their own images in the mirror. One of the men spoke of how, after his accident, he could no longer appreciate the spring—he could see the flowers clearly enough, since the perceiving part of his brain was fine. But apparently there was a break between that part of the brain and the limbic part, the part that controls emotions.
“I can’t feel the beauty anymore,” he explained.
I paused the program and turned to my husband. “That explains it!” I told him. “You know how you’re always trying to get me to marvel and gasp over every flower we pass? And I always say, ‘Yes, they’re beautiful, but let’s go now?’ Now I understand: I’m simply limbic-ly impaired.”
He was happy enough to concur with my insight, but a moment later I realized I wasn’t the only supposedly flawed person in the family. In fact, my younger son, when he was about 10, asked us, “What’s a flower for?” and we were momentarily without a response. Do you talk about biodiversity and birds and bees and evolution? Or would a reply that focused on beauty make much sense to him? (He became an engineer and, years later, his garden is almost exclusively vegetables and fruit trees. Though the other day he did tell me he was considering planting a second bougainvillea because the first is so stunningly beautiful to look at.)
And while I’m just not moved by flora, many situations do pique my emotions. For instance, when I read that a drunk driver has wiped out a family, or that a robber has taken the money a mother was going to use to buy flowers for the nurses who treated her terminally ill child, I feel plenty of negative emotion. And I’m very moved by babies and tiny children. Their vulnerability and trustingness sets off a shower of sparks in my limbic system.
My mate doesn’t get emotionally aroused by either adult imbecility or infant vulnerability. He is a caring person who shares my overall values, yet he doesn’t feel my urge to at least say, “Isn’t that the most infuriating thing you’ve ever heard?!”
“Well,” I said to the postal clerk that day as I reached for the flower stamps, “these are for my husband.” He gazed at me for a moment through the clear wall separating us, then crinkled his mouth into a grin.
“Oh, sure,” he said, winking. “Have a nice day!”