Thursday, July 25, 2013

Language Lessons

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Had I known that sunflowers mean false riches, I would have put Gerber daisies (which mean cheerfulness) in the guest room when my brother-in-law brought his family to visit at the beginning of July.  I would not have put fresh cut hydrangeas in pretty glass vases all over the bathrooms and downstairs (hydrangeas mean dispassion).  I should have opted to cut my purple coneflowers which mean strength and health, or my pink roses which mean grace.  Had I known that the baggie full of basil I so lovingly gave my best friend Cari last summer secretly meant hate, I would have opted to fill the baggie with Oregano instead (which means joy).

I didn't know. 

But now I pay attention to the hidden meanings of flowers after reading Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers.  Although this book would most definitely be categorized as "Chick Lit" I loved it (since I am, in fact, a chick who likes lit).  Diffenbaugh presents an edge to her storyline that made me want to retain the secret Victorian language of flowers.  I knew that flowers had meanings.  I once attended a wedding where the bride ordered special flowers for her bridesmaids.  Each bouquet showcased flowers that emphasized the individual qualities she loved about each of the women she wanted by her side on her special day. I love the symbolic meaning of anything and to know that an entire language can exist not only for wooing a potential mate (which is how flowers were utilized in Victorian England), but to communicate so much more.  

While reading The Language of Flowers, it becomes almost impossible not to feel sympathy for the plight of the lonely Victoria who is a self proclaimed misanthrope due to her years spent in and out of foster care, her belongings in one box or bag, sharing space with other desperate girls who are aging out of the broken system.  At age 10 she comes close to happiness with Elizabeth, a vineyard owner and patient person who sees Victoria's anger and hostility as a match for her own loneliness and a window into her past self.  They come close to being a family, but the human heart holds darkness and limitations.  As Renata, the perceptive owner of the floral shop Bloom,  says to Victoria, "Do you really think you're the only human being alive who is unforgivably flawed?  Who's been hurt almost to the point of breaking?" Because Victoria wants to punish herself for past mistakes, she refuses to depart from her loveless life. 

Something about Victoria and her aversion to love, her self imposed seclusion, her inability to stay when she finds love or kindness, and her self hatred resonated with me and not because I feel any of those things in my own life or with my own personality. I felt for her.  I wanted her to find happiness.  I wanted Grant to break through her icy exterior and teach her the language of human emotion - not just the language of flowers which she can recite and help others with in their own lives.  I wanted all of them to find the reconciliation that Hazel offers.  

The Language of Flowers was a beautiful two day diversion that made me aware of the symbolism all around me.  As I look out my window right now and see my beautiful Crepe Myrtle in bloom I know it means love, and when my friend Dayna came over for lunch and brought a mason jar full of zinnias (her daughter is named Zinnia) and a purple coneflower, I know that bouquet meant strength and health and I mourn your absence.  Maybe this wasn't what Dayna wanted to say, but I love the language of flowers and have an appreciation for it even more after reading Diffenbaugh's book. 

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