- - Monday, May 4, 2020

Everybody has their own window on how the coronavirus crisis is affecting us. Doctors, first-responders, teachers, ministers, restaurant owners, people in the travel industry. But it might surprise you to learn that those of us who work with flowers have our own 360-degree view of the impact.

This is the time of year when floral artists come into their own. Not only lots of spring and early summer weddings, and the usual number of birthdays, anniversaries, hospital stays and funerals. It’s prom season. Graduations. Mother’s Day. Easter.

When an executive order in Washington State shut down my flower shop — for the first time in 47 years — I hardly knew how to respond. We just posted signs on the front and back doors, and notices on Facebook and the website, letting people know we’d be gone for a while.

That left the question of what to do with the more than $8,000 worth of flowers that we had in the coolers. I couldn’t bear to throw them all away.

We began arranging impromptu bouquets and taking them to local nursing homes. Handing them out to first-responders. Contacting mortuaries to ask about grieving families who might be unable to have traditional funeral services right now. So many were amazed and delighted to receive those bursts of color and sweet aroma. Flowers send messages and we wanted to send a message of love, joy and hope to people who are hurting in these dark times.



After that, I looked around at my 11 employees — some of whom have been with me for decades, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck. I paid them what extra I could to hold them over. We couldn’t even hug goodbye. We just looked at each other with big “puppy dog” eyes, smiled and waved, and went home.

And there, like everyone else, we wait.

I check in on the crew every few days; so far, they’re all well. Like millions of Americans, I’m contacting friends, seeing how I can pray for and encourage them. I’m calling the nursing homes, too. Some people just want someone to visit or pray with for a few minutes.

We all need so much encouragement right now.

Now we’ve posted an offer on Facebook, inviting people to drop off bud vases at the front of the store. I’m sanitizing them, arranging them with flowers designed to bring cheer and delivering them to hospital staff and patients free of charge. It’s such a joy to be able to give something special back to the people of this community, who have been so good to me.

If the crisis passes soon, my crew will be back in the near future. If it doesn’t, we’ll have to hold out a while longer. The question for us, as for everyone, is how many days, weeks and months are in “a while.”

Like everyone, I’m concerned, but I have it a lot better than others do at the moment. Some businesses in our community have failed; some people have lost everything.

I haven’t lost everything … yet. If I do, it probably won’t be the coronavirus that’s to blame.

Washington state has filed suit against me because I couldn’t design flowers celebrating a friend’s same-sex wedding (though I’d designed countless other arrangements for him through the years). The American Civil Liberties Union is suing me, on behalf of the friend, in both my personal and business capacities. So, I did something I’d never have imagined doing: Enlisting Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys to defend my First Amendment rights.

My case is now on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the justices decline to hear it, or rule against me, I could lose most of my earthly possessions.

It’s not really the injustice of all that concerns me most. This virus has reminded me of what will happen not only to me, but to those 11 wonderful employees of mine if I lose my shop.

I’m reminded, too, how important it is that we all just take time right now to be kind and care for each other. The virus will eventually go away. Meanwhile, we can all be humbled by the growing understanding that someone bigger than ourselves determines the course of events in our lives. By remembering, as we miss this time with our children and grandchildren, that they are God’s precious gift.

That’s nothing that a lot of other people haven’t learned for themselves, these last few weeks. I just work with flowers … and so I’m reminded more often than most that, even in times like these, if we plant the right seeds, beautiful things will grow.

• Barronelle Stutzman is the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, located in Richland, Washington.

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