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A perfect stranger's perfect gift

Maureen O'Brien |  21 November 2016


Recently I went with a group of friends to a matinee of the musical Dusty, at the Playhouse Theatre in Melbourne. We all enjoyed the experience, not just for the poignant story, colourful production and the skills of the performers, but mainly for the songs we remembered so well from the 60s.

Hand picking up a flowerAfterwards, walking in the sunshine along St Kilda Rd towards Flinders Street Station with one of my friends, I spoke about how special it had turned out for me seeing this musical on the day after my 54th wedding anniversary.

The songs written and sung by Dusty Springfield were ones my husband and I would have heard and known well at the time.

Just as I was reflecting on how some events have more significance than what appears on the surface, I noticed a young man on my right. He turned towards me and handed me a large red flower, smiling and saying, 'I'm supposed to give this to a stranger.'

Surprised, I stopped, took the flower, thanked him and asked, 'Do I have to pass it on to a stranger too?'

'No,' he said, 'it's for you. Take it home and put it in a vase.' I smiled and thanked him again as he and the young woman with him disappeared into the crowd ahead.

I recalled then reading about the current art exhibition of live flowers at the National Gallery of Victoria. Sure enough there was a narrow, plastic, water-filled envelope on the flower's stem with 'NGV, Lee Mingwei, The Moving Garden' written on it.

My friend had heard about the exhibition also. Because of our earlier discussion I confided in her my sense that the gift of the flower on that particular day was loaded with unique significance. She agreed. I am aware that many might see what had happened as no more than a coincidence, and I cannot dismiss that possibility.


"Conscious that I had received an unexpected gift a short time earlier, I walked over to this man and slipped some money into his cap. He thanked me and wished me a happy day. I wished him the same."


However, always open to seeing something deeper in the most ordinary events, I continued to muse on what had prompted the young man to hand the flower to me. He could just as easily have handed it to the friend I was walking with. We were both about the same age. To a stranger there would have seemed very little difference between the two of us.

As we neared the railway station I saw a homeless man sitting on the pavement. There are many homeless people on the streets of Melbourne this year and when I can I stop and speak to them and give them a few dollars which I hope might help them. Conscious that I had received an unexpected gift a short time earlier, I walked over to this man and slipped some money into his cap. He thanked me and wished me a happy day. I wished him the same.

Later, at home, I checked out the website for the NGV and found that Taiwanese-American artist Lee Mingwei is the creator of 'The Moving Garden 2009-present, an artwork which creates new unexpected encounters in the city'. Wherever this exhibition is shown, Lee invites visitors to take one of the flowers with them, provided they agree to give it to a stranger who they feel would benefit from this unexpected act of generosity.

It now seemed to me, even more acutely, that the young couple, who I imagine decided together that I was one who would benefit from receiving the flower, were either extremely perceptive or inspired in their decision.


Maureen O'Brien headshotMaureen O'Brien is a Melbourne writer.



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Submitted comments

Wonderful story and do appropriate as we begin Advent preparing for Christmas. Thank you so much Maureen.

Phil Billington 23 November 2016

Maureen there is significance in the capacity to be perceptive and the inspiration of the receiver as well as that of the donor of a gift. I recently overheard a conversation about a stranger approaching people in a small community with the gift of a flower. The recipients, tutored in suspicion by scams, were quite perplexed and bemused.

Judy 23 November 2016

Thanks Maureen. What a coincidence! I had a similar experience leaving the NGV at Federation Square. A lovely couple stopped us and offered a flower which I carefully transported home on the train. Ripples of warmth and kindness are so much appreciated and inspire us.

Mary Connell 23 November 2016

What delights is that ability to tell a story, an experience, which at one level seems so homely and at another level opens a wide perspective that links the past, present and future, (mystery) while gifting the individual with joy and openness to life- Thank you Maureen

Rita Ruzzene 23 November 2016

Beautifully written, Maureen, and how appropriate for you to receive the flower on your anniversary. The giver was meant to choose you. Love lives on!

Tricia Murray 23 November 2016

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