Bread and lilies

Packing my Bibles and prayer-books into a box before leaving for work this morning — I’m moving house next week — I uncover something a friend gave me, years ago … Saints : enrich your life with their wisdom.

Rather than pack it with the other items, I slip it into a pocket of my coat.

At work, I open the tiny book at random … St Germaine of Pibrac (patron saint of the disabled). “One day her stepmother accused her of stealing bread for the poor, whereupon Germaine opened her apron and flowers fell to the floor.”

Pressing the play button on the iPod, I glance at the little screen … the album is “Tourist” by St Germain, and the first track “Rose rouge”.

And all the while, that lovely Chinese proverb is dancing through my thoughts: “If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily.”

I first heard a Scotsman utter those words in a pub, around 1972, and have subsequently discovered a number of variants, including: “When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.”

Doing a bit of internet research, today, I find that more than one restaurant has called itself “Bread and Lily”; and there’s the famous “White Lily” brand of flour.

Flying in the face of the old proverb’s wisdom, there’s an economics blog calling itself The Bread or the Lily, which explains that “Scarcity of means to satisfy ends of varying importance is an almost ubiquitous condition of human behaviour,” and seems to insist that we choose between the two, rather than finding a way to achieve balance.

There’s one solution to such dilemmas: “The loaf of bread on my table … and the lily in my hand don’t make much sense unless I bought them both to share with you … (Gitanjali, Secular Speculations – 443)

PS: If the phrase, “bread and roses” is on your mind, the Wikipedia article of that name is worthwhile.


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