AN UNUSUAL request in a death notice in a newspaper inspired a priest in London to go out on the streets to give away flowers to strangers.
“It was a social experiment,” the Assistant Curate at St Luke’s, West Holloway, the Revd Martin Wroe, said. He was spurred to action by the death notice of Jack Webber, a 101-year-old former Royal Navy officer, whom he had never met. It described him as a “charmer, clock-collector, wit, and RN Commander”, and asked people not to send tributes to his funeral, but to “give a bunch of flowers to a complete stranger and tell them they’re absolutely marvellous”.
Mr Wroe explained his reaction on Thought for the Day on Radio 4 last week. “Maybe it’s because we’re entering the season of goodwill, but I thought I’d give it a try,” he said. “It’s easier said than done.”
He told how, holding a bunch of carnations, he hesitated before approaching complete strangers. “I chickened out altogether,” he admitted. “It was too weird. What would they take me for?” Eventually, he approached an elderly man. “‘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.”
Mr Wroe then approached a lollipop lady he knew in passing. “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.” Then he met a woman “clearly at her wits’ end”, with her 98-year-old mother. He proffered chrysanthemums, and thanked her for looking after her mother. Mr Wroe said: “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.”
This week, he said: “Everybody has their story, don’t they? I felt that people appreciated being noticed. It’s like that Quaker quote: as soon as they explain about their story, you are in their story. In big cities, it is a little bit tricky to cross the threshold into someone else’s life, but, once you do, you often find you are welcome.
“I didn’t know really what to expect. I didn’t expect hostility, but a few times I was thinking: ‘They are going to think I am some kind of hazardous figure.’”