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The Stories that Shaped Flyleaf

Flyleaf hadn’t yet been in business for a full year when the world came undone in the spring of 2020.

At the time, we were growing plants under artificial lighting in the second story of the church building on Watson. We had two old classrooms upstairs filled with thousands of plants for customers who would schedule an appointment online to come shop. It was pretty jungleish. Everything was by appointment, of course, and time slots were limited.

With small numbers of people, though, our openings in the classrooms seemed to invite long conversation and often truly in-depth and down-to-earth talks about life and living. There was a serene type of ambience there, I believe, which contributed to the talks. Plants helped. The lighting helped. It was a very laid-back and relaxed time in a time that otherwise brought many of us to our knees.

Laid-back as I’m saying, however, the conversations that we had and the stories that I heard are truly the stories and the lessons that shaped Flyleaf.

I knew from the beginning that I wanted Flyleaf to be a helpful company, drawing on the 40+ combined years of horticultural experience that Jill and I could offer. I wanted people to know plants and I wanted them to find a peace in them that I, personally, had found in them. Maybe even to pursue a life-long career with plants. Who knows?

I wanted Flyleaf to be good, but I probably wouldn’t have referred to our work as ‘important’ if the question were raised that summer. But back to the conversations.

By the fall of 2020, I had heard several times in our converted classrooms how extremely thankful people were that we were open (ish) and that we let people wander and do what they needed to do. Honestly, I was humbled by the thanks, but I didn’t quite get it. The emotion was often raw – not necessarily heavy, but closer to unrestrained than I was accustomed to seeing. It was a different kind of thing.

Society got real in a way that I hadn’t experienced since 9/11 and to a slightly lesser extent, the crash of ’08 and ’09. I noticed the zeitgeist had changed.

Something else that I noticed at the time was that we had an inordinate number of nurses who stopped by. It was truly such that I had a few medical professionals from probably every hospital system in town giving me their thoughts on the predicament we were all in. And beyond the locals, there were a few who brought their thoughts from afar.

Traveling nurses are of an occupation that I hadn’t known existed just a few months earlier. What I gleaned in conversation, though, was that a traveling nurse spends his or her time in towns and sometimes states that are not their own. And this, if I understand correctly, for weeks on end.

Beyond this, I believe it was the case that though there was a set timeline for the traveling nurse's return home, sometimes it wasn’t certain that their stay wouldn’t be extended beyond that point.

Time away from family and friends. Time away from known places and familiar faces. Time away from their own bed and their own closets.

It’s hard for me to process some of the stories that I heard from nurses, whether from home or away, as much other than time away from comfort. There wasn’t any bitterness, but there was some brokenness.

It was this understanding of the predicament people were in that helped me to finally understand something more about the business we were actually in.

What Jill and I took part in when we opened the classrooms for visits had something to do with respite for people. It had something to do with breathing well when the outside air was stifling. It had something to do with stepping away from a hurtful period, if only for a moment. An escape. And it all had to do with plants. It revolved around plants.

Though it took me some time to put the pieces together, what I see now and what I learned from those conversations in our first couple of years is that Flyleaf can contribute to something much bigger than the excitement of a new find or even a good talk about plant care or propagation.

We can orient our business and our events in a way that maximizes that period of enjoyment and respite that an individual experiences when they’re around plants. To me, this is important work.

Plants are the carrier, for sure, but I believe that as often as we can help people to better understand their plants, that initial period of respite and pleasure for them is increased and further enjoyment of life, in general, is the cargo. This is why we do what we do. And it’s a continual purpose, for me, that’s worthy of pursuit.

As a parallel point, by the way, this is why I always want to express thanks to all of you. This is why I post about my thankfulness after each event. I don’t always want to get sobby with the thanks, but when I ask myself why it is that I live the life that I do, it’s because I now understand that I enjoy my life most when I help others enjoy theirs more, so things get set aside for this. It’s a great place to be. And for this clarity and purpose, I’m thankful. And it’s obviously and only because you show up when we open the doors that we can do anything at all, let alone find fulfillment.

Warren Wiersbe wrote in a book with a title that I’ve forgotten, an idea that I hope to never forget: Sometimes, we can be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good.

Flyleaf does what it does because I believe more and more that there is some truth to the idea of the Butterfly Effect. Not so much that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brooklyn can lead to a sandstorm in Bagdad, but that by caring about people, even beyond their plantness, we can offer some small moment of joy for those we meet which can lead to ripples radiating outward and some small slice of joy traveling along with them to be shared with whomever they meet.

And I believe the joy will be shared. Not necessarily in a talk about plants - maybe, but joy is infectious and I believe it rubs off wherever it goes. And it grows. A little bit like the Butterfly Effect.

Admittedly, it all sounds a little “heavenly minded”, but I’ve seen over these first few years of our existence that working for people more than worrying about sales is an “earthly good” that has wings. So this is the work that we do. And it's work that we hope to get better at and invest in all the more in 2024.

Andrew

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