Slowly, they bud, as the lilacs fade, as the days grow warm and long
One by one, they pop open, bursting bright raspberry shades across the lawns
They open wider, flinging ruffles and ripples across our paths
They are generous benefactors, stacking pillows of pink and magenta in front of our eyes
The slanting sun shimmers in the distance as the bowers of bright pink smile and bounce in the spring breeze
And if you look deeper, inside – as often happens in life – you find that more than the surface color and shine exists. Farther in, tucked away, only slightly hinted at, there lives a completely different color and texture, hidden from first view, but ever so beautiful and surprising as you peer beneath the garish surface of a peony.
Two weeks ago the lilacs bloomed. The air smelled sweet with fragrance. I picked a bouquet and took a quick picture of them as I ran out the door for work.
That night, the waiting we were doing for a new arrival ended. Our lives changed forever as our second daughter, Emme, was born three weeks early, on the birthday of our friend, mentioned in my last post. Her birthday was supposed to be today, but her dark hair looks amazing with the lavender shade of the lilacs that bloomed the week her life began.
I took a short break from posting, as some of the images in my world defied description with words.
There are times in our lives when the sights around us speak profoundly for themselves; others are so subtly momentous that we simply sit and stare, committing the scene to memory for the rest of our lives.
I’ve had both the last few weeks. It’s been a silence rich with living.
Leaves open and spread like umbrellas over the sidewalks to keep the showers from drenching. The sun rises early through the trees now, when the world is still and calm and fog can shift and dance down the fields and sunbeams can shimmer on flower blossoms.
The scent of lilacs floats across the mist. The fragrance follows me into the house sliding through the slightly opened window. I head across the lawn, to make the ritual spring sacrifice, the breaking of branches to gather in the lavender flowers with the magic, ethereal scent that defies a worded description. The purple bowers join me in the house in a white milk glass vase. The sun glints on stones in the early evening hours. We walk across roadways lined with the frivolity of dancing, discarded blossom. Leaves make designs with their sunny shadows across the paths beneath us. Pansies sit in watering cans, glowing, gleaming, glinting in the sunlight.
I open up again, to the outdoor world, to the growing world, to the spring. I fling open windows, throw back curtains, pull up blinds, cast off sweaters, pull on light shirts. We all start over. Again. Like each year before. Its Spring, you are alive, go out and live, the breeze taunts us and the sun teaches us. Mud and puddles and green leaves and strong branches and blowing blossoms and bubbles from bottles with wands, and Little League, and the smell of grills, and skids of bike tires, and squeals of children, and the scent of lilacs and the sight of pink peonies starting to bud are the Pied Pipers of the Spring world. According to my daughter, even Curious George says that Spring is the time for being outside. Throw off the mess, the struggle, the pain, the sad. Go outside, see redemption foreshadowed in the renewal of life.
Today is the birthday of a friend who passed away last fall. A good friend, more than an acquaintance. One of those few friends they tell you about that you can count on your available fingers, who will change your life, stay in your life, and whose memory will make you smile when they unfortunately leave life too soon. A friend worth remembering. A friend who would be living well during the Spring and would be showing others how to live as well.
There is the comfort of the ritual, the familiar, the repeated coming of Spring. But always, drifting along the edge of the lilac scented mist is hope – dancing, spinning, twirling, and promising that New can come too. Something better, something different, something dreamed of, something healing, all wrapped up with the ribbon of the familiar, doused with the scent of memories, like lilacs in a childhood yard, flooded with the evening sunlight over a familiar road. A grateful combining of old and new.
One of the great things about literature is how it teaches us about our world and about our place in the world. Children’s literature is especially valuable in this aspect, as that, now along with children’s television shows, is usually a child’s first glimpse at how the world operates beyond his or her front door. I read a variety of children’s books these days, and am sometimes appalled at how terribly some children’s books – even chart topping ones- can be written, or how little value they can hold in terms of artistry or teaching anything about anything in life- the world, people, emotions, actions, character, beauty. But that is not my rant of the day. At the same time, there is a plethora of great books in existence for children that are magical, breathtaking in their artistic value, utterly creative, and stunning in the way they can bring the world down into a tiny microcosm and inform and entertain a child (and sometimes an adult who has read the book repeatedly) at the same time.
One of my favorite children’s books is Make Way for Ducklings. I started to love this book when I lived far away in the sunny South and worked with tiny first graders who were reading this book on their own for the first time. I loved the Bostonian references, the landmarks, the pictures of places far from me, yet so familiar, that it felt like it took me back home….when a children’s book can transport a 23 year old, there is a classic book at hand, I believe.
I put this book on my baby registry three years ago, received it as a gift, and have been forcing my daughter to sit thru it attempting to read it to my daughter in its entirety, with some measure of success over the past few months. I always have to smile when we reach the pages about Michael the Boston Policeman, who feed the ducks peanuts, blows his whistle at the traffic for the ducks to have a clear path, and calls the headquarters for back up to allow the ducks to safely cross the intersection and march right on into the Public Garden to be reunited with Mr. Mallard.
Last Friday, as I was glued to the news reports of the Boston Police and other departments and agencies chasing down a terrorist throughout the nearby suburb with bomb squads and assault rifles and thermal imaging coming out of helicopters, I had the fleeting, ironic thought of Michael the Policeman rushing to his call box to request back up to allow the family of ducks to safely cross the street. I spent all of last week, not just Friday, in awe of the police forces and their handling of the Marathon bombings, the hunt for suspects, the capture. I spent Friday hoping and praying for their safety, amazed at the bravery, and admiring their tenacity throughout the long dogged hours that dragged on, seemingly endlessly. I am a first class coward, idealist, and daydreamer, not a natural first responder, so the people who can rush into the danger zones of the world amaze me, police, runners, medical staff, the list goes on. Heroes all of them.
At 9pm, last Friday night, we turned Curious George on in the bedroom for the child, and sat in our living room scrolling through Twitter updates and watching the lines of police cars ride thru Watertown, MA, flags waving, people cheering as they breathed hard with relief, watching the police department heads give speeches. I said to my husband that it must be the most amazing feeling in the world to be a police chief in a relatively major area of the country, but to suddenly realize that you have just had a part in apprehending criminals such as roamed through Boston last week. A resume topper to a great career for sure.
It is a far cry from stopping traffic to let ducks cross the road. The contrast is laughable.
And yet, I’m not going to read my daughter the articles in the Boston Globe about chasing down terrorists. I drove down the road this week, listening to NPR reports, wondering when and how I will ever have conversations with her about what happens in these situations, why people kill others, how there are heroes in our world, and hoping she never has to personally live too close to an experience like Boston had last week. But I will continue to read her Make Way For Ducklings. And I mean this in no way to sound belittling to the Boston Police, because there is no comparison between looking out for ducks and chasing a terrorist, really.
But, I will read the book, and I will tell her now how good it is to be considerate of every living creature, human or duckling. And I will point out to her, in a way a child can grasp, that policeman are hired with the intention that they will take care of others, whether than means stopping traffic for ducks or protecting lives in mass chaos and senseless violence. And I will tell her how we should all be looking for opportunities to be kind, to be unselfish, to protect those in our care, even to the point where Clancy at headquarters might think we’ve lost our marbles because we’re trying to help ducks cross the road.
And I will marvel at how amazing the city of Boston and the Boston Police are and I will marvel at how well children’s books can teach great lessons in small ways. Lessons that might well be mirrored in real life in a way we would never imagine as we sit in a quiet nursery reading a child’s book about ducks.
* All the pictures are of the illustrations in Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings
Some of my favorite scenes from my favorite city.
I remember walking around Boston on a warm, sunny April day, years ago, a day or two after Oklahoma City suffered a bombing. I vividly remember looking around and wondering what it would be like if Boston had undergone bomb explosions. And now it has done just that.
I love this city. I will always love it.
The page has turned on the calendar, and for the last two weeks there has been no snow in the forecast. We seem to have drifted into April, almost imperceptibly. Slowly, the daffodils are opening and buds are now visible on the bare tree branches. It is one of those pivotal months, where we actually start to see and smell the long overdue change that flits through the air. The dancing sprite brings the promise that things we wish would end, like winter, sickness, pain, and curses will not last forever, but will someday break.
While accepting temporal change as reasonable for now, I spotted this little gem yesterday. Skipping over the spring delights, I went straight on to summertime, to the sea, to long breeze filled days that stretch into warm evenings, that carry a salty smell, when feet are free and hair is loose and blown. I felt like I’d run into an old friend from long ago as I indulged in my seaside dreams.
I bought this book a little over a year ago. I love the pictures and the poems and I love pretending to read the selections to my two year old. Sometimes she listens, sometimes she squeals over the pictures. One she does actually listen to is the poem “Sea Joy” by Jacqueline Bouvier which we found one night while reading poems on the bed. Everyone loves Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy for her sense of style, grace, pearls, and blah blah blah, but, this poem might be what intrigues me the most about her because she somehow captures my own thoughts about the seaside. I thought it was perfect to share this poem along with my pretty tea set and a few pictures of one of the prettiest places to enjoy the sea – off the coast of New England. Here’s to dreams of change ahead, of freedom, of beauty, of joy by the sea…
When I go down by the sandy shore
I can think of nothing I want more
Than to live by the booming blue sea
As the seagulls flutter round about me
I can run about – when the tide is out
With the wind and the sand and the sea all about
And the seagulls are swirling and diving for fish
Oh – to live by the sea is my only wish.
- Jacqueline Bouvier
- page 92, A Family of Poems, My Favorite Poetry for Children, Caroline Kennedy, Editor
See, what a morning, gloriously bright,
With the dawning of hope in Jerusalem;
Folded the grave-clothes, tomb filled with light,
As the angels announce, “Christ is risen!”
See God’s salvation plan,
Wrought in love, borne in pain, paid in sacrifice,
Fulfilled in Christ, the Man,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!
See Mary weeping, “Where is He laid?”
As in sorrow she turns from the empty tomb;
Hears a voice speaking, calling her name;
It’s the Master, the Lord raised to life again!
The voice that spans the years,
Speaking life, stirring hope, bringing peace to us,
Will sound till He appears,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!
One with the Father, Ancient of Days,
Through the Spirit who clothes faith with certainty.
Honor and blessing, glory and praise
To the King crowned with pow’r and authority!
And we are raised with Him,
Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered;
And we shall reign with Him,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!
“See, What a Morning” (Resurrection Hymn)
Words and Music by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend