251. The Gift of a Rose Redounds to the Good of the Giver


14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.[ 2 Corinthians 2:14-17, NRSV]

   A simple gift

On our second year studying theology in Leuven, Belgium, we were guests at the Tongerlo Abbey whose custom-built Da Vinci Museum houses the best replica of Da Vinchi’s masterpiece, The Last Supper. We were invited there for the weekend by a student-monk of the Norbertine Order who studied together with us. At the end of our visit, as we were getting ready to leave, the guest-master Fr. Ivo told us that early in the winter mornings, he loved to walk and meditate in the garden. In one of those morning walks, he was inspired to write a poem, which reads in part something like:

  • Even to the sinful hand
  • that breaks the blossom branch,
  • He gives fragrance.

Fr. Ivo was contemplating the generous mercy of God when he wrote that. Since then, we have been interested in searching and reading reflections on “the gift of a rose”. From an English proverb – “The rose’s in her hand, the flavor in mine” – we are led to grow faith in human goodness and the wonders of God’s ways. The proverb is probably of ancient Indian origin which underscores the marvelous lingering of fragrance on the hand of a person who gives a rose to another person (赠人玫瑰之手,经久犹有余香). The English proverb points to a common, and yet heartwarming and faith growing  phenomenon: no matter how small a good deed may seem, such as giving a rose to someone, it often redounds to both giver and recipient a warm feeling that simmers and grows from the depth of the heart, covers the whole person, and permeates the entire being. We then came upon the following story on a Chinese website.

The following is our translation:

Once there was a small girl selling flowers. By dusk, she had sold almost all her flowers except for a single stick of rose. She decided to pack it in and go home. Then, seeing a roadside beggar, she went over and gave the rose to him. She went home feeling very happy with herself.

That was just the prelude to the real story. Here goes.

Never in his wildest dream could this beggar imagine such a good thing happening to him – a pretty girl giving him a rose! Really, the sun is rising from the west. Perhaps this beggar had never really taken care to love himself; he certainly had never received any expression of love from another person in his life. So today, he made a decision: he would not be begging this day; he would go home.

On reaching his house, he looked for and found a bottle, filled it with water and set the rose in it. He put the bottle on the table and sat down quietly admiring the beauty of the rose. Suddenly he jumped from the table, took out the rose, gave the bottle a thorough wash before sticking rose back in it. What prompted his sudden action was the realization that such a beautiful rose should not be displayed in such a dirty bottle. Only a nice and clean bottle is fit to hold a rose of such beauty.

After this, he sat down and resumed his admiration of the rose. Then, all of a sudden, he felt that such a beautiful rose in such a clean bottle ought not to be displayed on such a dirty table. At once, he set about clearing the table, and giving it a good wipe down.

That cleaning work done, he sat down once again to admire the beautiful sight before him. But then, it dawned on him that such a beautiful rose in such a clean bottle set on such a clean table really ought not to be displayed in such a dirty and messy room. So there he began to clean the entire room, placing things in neat and proper order, and throwing out all unwanted rubbish.

Miraculously, inspired by the presence of that single rose, the whole room went through a transformation; now, it has become a lovely place of warmth. He was lost in the very beauty of the place. But as he was intoxicated with delight, he suddenly caught a glimpse of an disheveled, sloppily dressed, and a very unkempt young man. He couldn’t believe that was him. How could such a character qualify to stay in such a room and enjoy the company of a rose?

Promptly he went to take a shower, his first in years. After that, he managed to find a few pieces of clothes which, though slightly old, were somewhat clean. He shaved, combed his hair, and looked in the mirror again. Suddenly, he found someone he had never seen, with a young and handsome face.

At this time, he came to assess himself as pretty presentable. Why then would he remain a beggar? His soul experiencing an awakening, he thus questioned himself for the first time. In fact, he thought, he looked pretty good and, taking another look around the room and another look at the rose, he came to a defining moment and made the most crucial decision in his entire life: he would give up begging and start looking for a job.

Not being one who would fear getting himself dirty, he quickly found a job the next day. Probably thanks to the full bloom of a rose in his heart, he strove hard and within a few years climbed up to become a successful entrepreneur.

Some years later, he finally located the little girl who gave him that rose. To the young lady, he gave half of all his wealth not for anything else, but in gratitude for giving him a rose when he was at his lowest point in life – as a beggar.

It was, of course, not merely a rose. In giving him the rose, she gave him hope, a hope for life, for continued existence, a hope for the possibility of a bright and beautiful future.

This is what the proverb “The rose’s in her hand, the flavor in mine” (赠人玫瑰, 手有 余 香) alludes to.

In fact, all we need is to believe in ourselves. Do not let ourselves wallow in the margins of failure. So long as we pick ourselves up and make some minor changes, our life shall begin to transform.

Remember: as we are changed, everything changes.

Copyright © Dr. Jeffrey & Angie Goh, July 2020. All rights reserved.

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