“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” New Era, Nov. 1995, 40
She catapults helplessly through darkness and she is screaming, screaming, screaming. “Wake up, Amy!” Scream. “Wake up! You’re having a bad dream.”
Amy struggles to look at her father who is smiling even though it’s the middle of the night. She feels beads of sweat, newly formed along her brow, trapping her hair. Her voice trembles, “What time is it?”
“I’m sorry I woke you, Dad.” Amy frowns as she slides back under the covers.
“Don’t worry. I was getting up at four anyway.” Amy’s dad goes to the flower mart early so he can choose the freshest blooms for his shop himself. “Looks like I’ve got some free time; want to talk about these bad dreams you’ve been having?”
“I’m pretty sleepy, Dad. Maybe we can talk tomorrow.”
“It is tomorrow,” he says, watching Amy rub her eyes. “Okay,” he sighs, “after school then.” He kisses Amy’s cheek. “Pleasant dreams.”
Amy stays awake. Pleasant dreams, sure, she thinks.
Later that morning at the breakfast table her little brother makes slurping noises. “Can’t you be a decent human being?” Amy asks.
Her brother, Markie, opens his mouth to defend himself, but Amy’s mother interrupts their morning ritual with one word: “Amy.”
Amy reads the ingredients on the cereal box. “Yuck, this cereal is full of poison! I can’t eat this stuff.”
“Amy,” her mom strains to speak patiently, “you need to eat something. The cereal is not poisonous.”
“It’s full of chemicals and preservatives. It’ll give me some incurable disease or something.” With that, Amy grabs her books and heads out the door for school. As she walks, a passing car reminds her of a recent nightmare. She was in a car and there was a horrible accident.
At school Becky invites her to go snowboarding Saturday on the last spring snow. “It’ll be great and I’ve got a snowboard you can borrow.”
Becky squeezes her face into an expression of disbelief. “Why not?”
Amy doesn’t want to go because she has never done it before and she’s afraid she’ll break a bone, probably an important one. “I have to finish my research report this weekend.”
“All you need to do is type the bibliography, remember?”
“I, uh, you know, had to make some major changes in it.”
“Okay, suit yourself. I’ll just ask someone else.”
Amy watches Becky walk toward a group of girls. She decides this would be the ideal time to finish her current events assignment. After a while the news stories begin to bear a striking resemblance to her nightmares. There are shootings and stabbings, drunk drivers killing innocent people, kidnappings, and tornadoes tearing apart entire communities. The bell rings and Amy nearly hits the ceiling.
Walking home after school, she takes a detour to see if her dad’s truck is at the flower shop. Seeing it, she goes inside the shop and sees the manager. “Hi, Amy, how are you?”
“Hi, Mrs. Jepperson. I’m okay.”
Mrs. Jepperson looks up while filling some balloons with helium. “Just okay?”
“Yeah.” How can anyone be any more than that? she thinks. There’s a horrible war on the other side of the ocean and there are town-eating tornadoes. No one has a right to be anything more than okay under the circumstances. “Where’s my dad?”
“He’s probably at your house by now. He ran out for a while. Oh, before you go, take these.” Mrs. Jepperson reaches for a scrambled bunch of flowers, the leftovers she would soon throw out.
“Thanks, but no.” Amy pushes through the door. “They’re just going to die.” That’s the trouble with flowers, Amy thinks as she walks up the hill to her house. They always turn brown and shrivel up.
Her dad is drinking ice water in the kitchen. “Amy, I need to go back and get the truck. Why don’t you come with me?” Amy knows what that means. He wants her to run with him, so she begins to formulate her excuse-for-the-day, but remembers that it won’t do her any good. She could give a hundred good reasons why she can’t run with him, and he’ll give her two hundred reasons why she should. It’s another family ritual.
“Okay,” she sighs, and goes to her room to change.
As they start down the hill he asks about her day. She tells him about all the horror stories she read in the newspaper and about how she couldn’t go snowboarding. Then he asks her if she knows why she’s having nightmares. “I really don’t know,” she says. “I just wish they’d go away.”
“Keep running hard and you’ll sleep like a baby.”
“But babies wake up crying every few hours.”
“Okay, I’ll think of another comparison,” he says as he playfully shoves his daughter into the grass.
“Dad! You got grass stains on my shorts!” They walk in silence the rest of the way to the shop.
She waits outside in the truck while he talks to his employees. When he comes out he’s carrying the armload of leftover flowers. He doesn’t even put them in the back; he just climbs into the driver’s seat with all the flowers. Some fall over onto Amy’s lap; they feel cold. “Dad, how can you see to drive?”
“I’m just going to breathe these in for a moment.” He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Ah, that’s wonderful.”
“But they’re not fresh. They’re going to die, like, probably tomorrow.”
Her dad opens his eyes and looks at her for what seems like hours. He puts the flowers down and begins to drive. “They’ll be gone, maybe tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy them today.” He doesn’t drive toward home.
She wishes he’d take her home. She’s in grass-stained shorts and a sweaty T-shirt. What if someone sees her? Her dad turns on the radio. It’s his favorite program, some old-fashioned comedy. He’s laughing hard. When the commercial comes on she switches the station to the news. They hear reports of a capsized boat and how the coast guard is looking for survivors. They hear about some famous couple getting divorced, and then they hear reports of atrocities in a war-torn country.
“Can I switch it back to my station now?” he asks Amy.
“It’s the news, Dad. It’s reality. We can’t bury our heads in the sand.”
“That’s true. But we don’t have to wallow in misery,” he says as he pulls over.
“Who’s wallowing in misery?”
Amy looks up to see pink and yellow flowers as far as she can see. “I’m just aware of what’s going on.”
“Being aware is one thing, but you can’t let it get to you.”
“Why not? It’s a miserable world. I have reason to be miserable.”
Amy’s dad gets out and opens Amy’s door. She gets out reluctantly. He takes her arm and leads her toward the rainbow of endless flowers. They stop at a patch of ground surrounded by flowers, and he digs into the dirt. Yuck, Amy thinks. Mud covers his fingers and an earthworm squirms away.
“Imagine,” her dad says, “if flowers decided that since they only live a short time they shouldn’t bother being beautiful and fragrant.”
“Yeah, but how can we go around being happy when so many people are suffering?”
“Does being unhappy help the people who are suffering?”
“Well,” Amy turns toward the truck.
“Does being unhappy help you in any way?”
Amy tries to think of a response. She looks at her dad for a clue. He isn’t even paying attention. In the middle of his lecture he’s stooping over, smelling flowers.
“Do you remember that scripture about ‘Man is that he might have joy’?” He stretches his arms out and looks like he is offering some kind of salute to the flower kingdom.
“But that’s for after we get through all the misery of this earth.”
“Is it? Amy, I have two assignments for you. One is for Saturday while you’re sitting around with nothing to do when you could have been snowboarding. I want you to answer the following question using your scriptures and other Church books. Think about this. Could it be that it is a good thing to be of good cheer?”
“And the other assignment?” she asks.
“Race me to the car!”
They run all the way, the colorful images of the flowers flashing past in such a blur that Amy almost laughs out loud, especially when her dad passes her along the skinny path looking like some kind of hairy gnome in running shorts. The fragrance is energizing, and she wonders if the things her dad said are true.
That night she helps her mom fold towels and asks her, “Why is Dad always so happy? Hasn’t he ever experienced anything really hard?”
Her mom stops folding and looks at the towel she is smoothing. “Oh, he’s had some hard times. Maybe you’ve forgotten. Your dad’s mother—your grandma—died when he was 12. That was really hard. He lost the first business he started. Then he was diagnosed with a liver disease and diabetes all in the same year.” She pauses, begins to lift a stack of towels, puts them down, and continues. “He was sent to fight in Vietnam when he was 19. He’s told me some about that, but I know he hasn’t told me everything. His brother was killed there. That was probably the hardest for him; he used to wake up with nightmares.”
Amy doesn’t say a word. The rest of the weekend she hardly says anything at all until her research is finished. On Sunday her dad asks her to sit down and make a report to him.
“Dad, terrible things happened to Christ, but he spent his time lifting others. And there are others who were like that too. They did terrible things to Joseph Smith and his family, but even though he had the right to be really miserable he still found time to arm wrestle and play with the kids and things like that.”
“So, did you learn from your research that it’s okay to be a happy person?”
“It’s more than okay. I think Heavenly Father wants us to find joy in our lives while we’re here. Maybe it’s like a skill. If we learn it here we’ll be better at it in eternity.”
He smiles. “So your research really helped.”
“Actually, I think I learned the most from example. There’s this man, you see, and he’s had some hard things happen to him. But he likes to get up early every morning and go to the flower mart, he listens to corny comedy on the radio, and he’s been teaching me all along that being happy is an important skill.”
Her dad isn’t smiling anymore. She doesn’t remember ever seeing him look this serious. “We have our agency,” he says. “We choose how to react to the hard things in life. We can grow and have gratitude for our blessings, or we can be miserable and stagnate.”
“Dad, will you lighten up!”
“Here, let’s give these to your mom.” He takes an armload of wilted flowers from a large grocery bag, and the two of them carry the gift. Amy fully breathes in their fragrance.