I’m cold. Our house is under-insulated and old and it gets damp and I’m frugal/conscious of invisible gases in the sky. I sit with my hoodie hood up or a winter hat on and April starts on Sunday. I look out the window and the world is brown. There are a few blossoms hanging around but with the grey sky, the bare trees, and the mud, the blossoms look like lipstick on a corpse.
A devoted reader who, for the sake of anonymity, I will hereafter refer to as “Granny Goodguts” remarked that it has been a while since my last post. That my readers, given the arrival of spring (somehow this was especially relevant), might appreciate some further thoughts. Granny Goodguts suggested the topic of rebirth: An Easter reflection.
Usually (you may be shocked to learn), I quickly dash off whatever I’m thinking about and publish the post before I lose my nerve. But this request, this assignment, has required a bit more thought, more emotional labor. I have a lot of words, but no clear way to arrange them in my mind. I have cultural norms and childhood teachings all jumbled together and I guess I haven’t been able to hear, or to listen, clearly.
After some pondering, and writing words that sounded ok in combination but that didn’t sit right in my guts, my epiphany came only moments after the children requested music during our morning commute. My phone randomly selected U2’s California, Ghostbusters (I ain’t afraid of no ghosts), Second Hand News, King of Pain, Endless Love, and Renegades on the way to school and back. Waiting at the exceptionally long red light, Maggie requested that no one sing so she could listen.
So there we were sitting quietly at the exceptionally long red light and Bono sang:
At the dawn you thought would never come
But it did
Like it always does
All I know
And all I need to know
Is there is no, yeah there is no end to love
That was the moment when it all felt clear to me. I knew what I would come home and write. I might have even gotten a little bit teary, or even just a bit out of my body, unreal for a moment.
But to explain all that, I have to go back, way back, to January 1, 2018.
I am awake, eyes closed in a California king-size bed with one of those super comfortable memory foam mattresses at my friends’ house. I can hear my children running up and down stairs, playing ninja or something else that is satisfyingly gender-inspecific. My husband is up and probably about to enjoy his first cup of coffee in the New Year. We have stayed up late eating fondue with our friends, an annual tradition. We have had more wine than I am used to (these days). We have watched our yearly fill of Ylvis and searched for something else on YouTube that would make us laugh as much but come up empty-handed again and still Ylvis has made nothing new.
I lie in the bed. I hear the sounds. The heater has been on all night so the room is overwarm and the air is dry. I stretch and feel the coolness of the sheets. I wonder if I will have a headache later. I am definitely thirsty. I consider that maybe this is not the best way to begin, this slight dullness, the heaviness from overindulging in bread and cheese, maybe it is not auspicious. But my optimism, or maybe just a survival instinct, kicks in and 2018 again feels precious, like a crisp, empty notebook in September. I think to myself: In 2018, I am kind to others and to myself. In 2018 I tell the truth, or rather, I don’t tell untruths. In 2018, so far, I am patient, I don’t shout or scowl to get my way. I don’t say things I don’t mean. I keep my commitments.
If I’m being honest, that is more of an idealized script. That is what I might think if I hadn’t over-cheesed and drunk wine without counting the number of glasses. What I actually think is more like: It’s a new year and so far you haven’t made any mistakes. You haven’t lost your temper. You haven’t been unsupportive or said anything rude. You haven’t said things you don’t mean. And so far you haven’t gone a single day without washing your face (or insert habit that I’ve struggled with for previous 40 years and still haven’t managed to instill). Then I think something along the lines of: Let’s just try to keep this streak for as long as we can. And I go on to have a few really good days. This little talk I give myself works, if only for a short while.
When asked about rebirth, this scene was what first came to mind. New beginnings. Starting fresh. A second (or fortieth) chance.
January’s possibility infuses me with a pleasant energy, like a small cup of good coffee without sugar, a healthy buzz. I can grow. I can choose. I can set some intentions and make plans. I love to get out empty sheets of paper and write down some things to accomplish (in 2018 I will finish drafting a novel), some practices to make habitual (in 2018 I will meditate 5 days each week), some themes for the year (in 2018 I will “ship my art” or “live like a pro”). I have a whole year ahead of me. A whole unknown year to be lived, a blank notebook to be filled with bold strokes and delight.
February is a bit more ho-hum. Still cold. Someone is probably sick. But the hopefulness, the momentum of January remain. Eleven more months to make this a great year.
Then March hits. Still cold. Someone is probably sick. The end of the school year looms. It is time to plan for summer. Summer? How could it already be time to plan for summer? Once summer comes the year is half gone. How could the year already be half gone? I’m still not living like a pro. I’ve missed a lot of days of meditation. The novel? It’s going to take a bit longer than expected. Probably not THIS year anyway.
Now we get back to where we started. It is the end of March. My hoodie hood covers my ears but my feet and hands are still cold. I have made my plans. I have worked and I have tried. This year will come to an end, like all of the years before, and some things will change and some things won’t change and I might never write that novel.
I look out the window at the grey sludge. Life is hard. Bad things happen. Scary, sad things. What can I do? I don’t feel like I can work any harder. I don’t think I can change any faster. I want to do my best but I’m tired. I want the world to be different, kinder, safer. And I’m still cold, my shins, inside my bones (maybe if you could finally stick to that exercise goal, warm you from the inside out i gently chide myself…)
The easter parade begins, very subdued. Tiny snowdrops are first to emerge from drifts of collected leaf debris, little white faces peeking over the decay of last summer’s growth. Then the crocuses, purple, gold, white. Thin green spikes barely supporting a few slovenly arranged petals that last only days. The trees are bare, their branches like arthritic hands reaching for the light. The daffodils open, cheerful yellow in the midst of the still, brown deserts. Weeping willow, apple blossoms, cherry blossoms emerge, and those dark red blooms, unexpected, appear on the maples. Then one day you walk outside and it isn’t dead, cold winter anymore. The birds are the first to tell you, but you can also feel it in the wind, a damp coolness that whispers to your skin. Your body, which you had been sheltering from the cold for five long months, feels something different. A yearning to stay out, to be gently caressed by this misty breeze for a few minutes more.
There may be nothing (excepting my children, my spouse, my parents, my siblings, my good friends, chocolate souffle, tree frogs, my piano, and my magenta sweatshirt) that I love in this world more than perennials. They are like magic. The ground is flat dirt. Cold. Hard. And underneath there is this surprise waiting. There is no hint except sometimes some dried old stubs left from last year. I start watching at the beginning of March. My eyes hungry, methodically scanning for even one small green tip. And one day, something is there. A tiny green shoot. A small red bump. A hint of life. And as it slowly emerges, day by day, I worry that it will get too cold again and it will die, but it doesn’t. It is prepared for the cold. It has a little jacket or it waits just long enough, till just the right moment on just the right day. And it turns into a whole plant. Maybe a coneflower, maybe a black-eyed susan, maybe a poppy (I always hope its a poppy), or milkweed or sneezeweed or salvia or foxgloves or bee balm. The point is, they are all there, waiting under the flat, brown mud. All that cold winter they were under there and one day you look and you see them popping up that first tiny shoot, that first small green leaf pushing through the remnants of last year.
That tiny shoot of green, that hopeful sprout — It’s the same plant. It isn’t a new plant. It isn’t re-born, it was alive — living — all the time. Sometimes it was drinking water, sometimes it was drenched in sun, sometimes it was sweetly singing to the honeybees and the butterflies, sometimes it was blown by a harsh wind, sometimes a kid picked all of its flowers or stepped on it, sometimes it was spreading roots under ground, sometimes it was protecting itself under a blanket of mud. And here it is, the same plant, in a new season.
We humans, mortals, we plan, we work, we strive. We tell ourselves that we are not enough – that we need to be reborn, start again. We hack ourselves to be more productive, more intentional, more beautiful, more (fill in the blank).
Night comes. Darkness. We can’t see clearly. Not because we didn’t work hard enough, not because we are flawed.
Because the sun has moved.
And we can’t bring it back.
Easter is named for Ēostre or Ostara, a Germanic goddess of dawn, the dawn which arrives at the end of each night. Always. No matter how poorly you slept, if you stayed awake all night, crazed, disconnected thoughts holding you hostage, forbidding rest and peace, eventually, the color of the sky will start to shift. The sun returns bringing light, warmth, life.
The concept of a new year, a new you, a do over is so seductive. I can be better. I can do better. I need to be different from yesterday’s me. But what we need, what I need, is not rebirth, but endurance. Acceptance. Faith. Humility.
Faith that even when I can’t see it, life is welling up underground, fed by what it was before, fed by all the life that was before, the leaves of last year, the same water that has trickled through every pore of this earth for billions of years.
Acceptance of what has been. Of what is. That the power to bring back the sun is not mine. Nor is the responsibility.
My second moment of insight during this morning’s commute came towards the end of Endless Love (ironic?) when Lionel and Diana are keying up for the power punch and he sings (and I with him, while simultaneously wondering what it is that makes this particular part of the song so irresistible, so potent):
CAUSE NO (no) ONE CAN DENY
THIS LOVE I HAVE INSIDE
I’LL GIVE IT ALL TO YOU
MY LOVE (my love, my love) MY ENDLESS LOVE
Acceptance, surrender, not being able to bring back the sun on command. These are difficult things. So what do we do? We know the dawn will come, we know life is beautiful. We know we are a part of the whole. But there’s still the waiting, the uncertainty, the dark, the cold. We have to do something, we can’t just sit there and wait for the world to sort out all of the problems on its own, humming fancy mantras. Jesus taught two basic rules for living: Love God. Love your neighbor. Not wipe your own slate clean. Not secure for yourself a fancy reward at the end. Not check all the boxes or make your-self into something you think others will admire.
All i know and all i need to know is there is no, yeah there is no end to love.
Maybe the power to endure comes from the endlessness of love.
And maybe that Endless Love is found in connection. Merging with another. Recognizing one’s relationship to the whole. Not smoldering, not wanting, but a bond strong enough to enable releasing, giving away.
We are alive and we are reaching for light, just like everything else that lives, and the path is not clear. The cells in me right now, made of sun, water, and stardust, different to the cells from last year but part of the same organization, would like to write a novel. Want to practice patience. Feel good when I meditate. So that is how I will organize my time in this season. Not because what I am needs to change. But because when the dawn came today, I woke up, alive, myself.
My dear Granny Goodguts, you have asked me about rebirth. Your question raises so many others and, even with Bono’s assistance, I still can’t quite work it all out. But to honor the importance of your question and in summary:
Spring, Ēostre, Easter, Ostara reminds me that the dawn always comes no matter how long and dark the night. That I don’t bring the dawn of my own accord, through my hard work. Instead, I acknowledge the night, I surrender to what is, I accept what has been. I share my light with others when I can, I appreciate the light that others shine for me. I wait. And when the dawn, Ēostre, comes I see the signs of life that were there underground all the time. I don’t need to start from scratch. I don’t need an empty notebook. I’m not an empty notebook. I’m an annotated, dog-eared notebook, loved, one tiny, rich volume in an unfathomable library.