By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine
I can remember sitting in our small country church listening to a visiting preacher deliver his sermon. He was suddenly set upon by a sneezing attack. It was vicious and seemed to be never ending until the preacher motioned to my Dad seated down front to remove the flower arrangement directly in front of the pulpit. Dad picked them up and sat them on the organ on the far right of the sanctuary. The preacher’s attack seemed to subside before Dad could get back to his seat. Apparently the preacher had a reaction to the flowers in the arrangement but once removed he was fine.
I observed my Dad as he returned to his seat whisper something to my Mom. I assumed about the flower arrangement. Mom was in charge of the arrangements and each was beautiful. Today’s especially so. Both were smiling so I assumed all was ok.
After church we all went to Mom’s and Dad’s for Sunday Dinner. Mom invited all visiting preachers to her home for dinner. Sitting around the table with our family and that of the preachers the discussion of course was directed to the preachers sneezing attack. He was quick to make his apologies and mentioned his allergies. He thanked Dad for moving the arrangement. Mom and Dad seemed to get a kick out of this and at this point revealed to us all the arrangement was made of artificial flowers.
Many times I have returned to this event and thought about what is real and what is not. I know the preachers sneeze attack was real. It was evident to everyone. His suffering was real as well. The suffering led him to seek a solution he hoped would give him relief. What he assumed was his source of discomfort was not real. I’m not sure what caused his discomfort but his allergy to the artificial flowers wasn’t the problem.
My Dad knew the flower arrangement was artificial when he rose from his seat to remove it. What was real about this was my Dad’s desire to serve and satisfy the preachers mind. It worked but to this day I am not sure why the preacher suddenly got relief.
To the congregation it was an obvious solution to a common problem. It was a real to them as any ordinary daily occurrence. Having no knowledge of the arrangement being artificial why would you think otherwise. I know I didn’t. Our observation was as real as that of my Mom and Dad who knew the truth.
As writers we have the opportunity to use stories like this one as a template to express various viewpoints on one event. Observations from different viewpoints should be explored and consider each one as interesting in itself or in opposition to the others. Go with your instinct and pursue what appeals to you the most. As in the story above, which indeed is a true story, the viewpoint of the congregation was rather tame. They questioned little and accepted the event as was. The viewpoint of my Mom and Dad was more interesting. I would want to go with theirs.