Because I grew up visiting Rochester’s annual Lilac Festival, spring isn’t really here for me until the purple, pink, white and mauve plumes send out their signature fragrance. There is even a bottled scent available called “Highland of Rochester Eau de Parfum”. Other signs of spring are that the flag once more flies from our porch, high school bands are tuning up for the coming weekend’s ceremonies and there’s no snow!! The past two weeks have offered the sort of romantic spring weather that poets put into verse --- as in Camelot’s, “’Tis the merry month of May….”! Everything seasonal is in full flower, and the air is filled with a potpourri of fragrance from not only lilacs, but also apple blossoms, viburnums, and tulips. Even dogwood flowers have a light, pleasant fragrance.
Now is also the time of year to vote on school budgets; an event that most small school districts in NYS schedule for May. Showing up to vote is one place to experience the camaraderie in rural communities. As we gather in the auditorium lobby to sign in, we can chat with others coming to vote, and those who are manning the tables. We talk about how volunteers are dwindling, how organizations like Lions’ Club, Farm Bureau and churches are suffering a lack of membership. We ask how this person is doing and whether that person is out of the hospital. We talk of the school play of a few weeks ago and what a good music department we have. We may very well not be voting the same way as those with whom we chat, but even if we disagree on how --- we are mostly all there to vote because we care about our community and our kids.
A larger world-wide community calls for our attention as we approach Memorial Day. For many this weekend is a family time for putting flowers on family graves, having picnics and perhaps either attending or participating in celebratory parades honoring veterans. But Memorial Day also offers a world view. What really honors those who have given their time, their health, and sometimes their lives? We are proud of and grateful to the people who stand on the front line between the utter chaos of the power-hungry and our wish to live in peace. Yet might we not express gratitude in more useful ways? Certainly our care for returned soldiers is dreadfully lacking; true gratitude would give them adequate, timely care and resources for mending and healing. And should we not deeply regret that humanity still glorifies war and continues to accept killing each other as a way of solving problems? My father was in WWI, two of my brothers were in WWII and a brother-in-law participated in the Korean “Conflict”. Friends with whom I went to high school and college were part of the war in Viet Nam. And we held our breaths for our own sons and nephews as calls came out for the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan and other troubled spots around the world. We currently have a nephew in the armed services. Conflict and war just never seem to stop; they simply ebb into a dribble until the next trouble spot erupts. If we could look at this eons-old dilemma from afar --- like from another planet perhaps ---- what might we think about common sense and humanity?
There are people who firmly believe that as we advance in civilization (education, logic and science) that we humans will become less barbaric and more compassionate. I’m not so sanguine. While I believe that we should keep moving ahead in those arenas, I’ve found that logic seldom changes anyone’s mind (“la, la, la --- I can’t hear you!!”). Education does make a difference but it takes two or three generations for deeply instilled philosophies of bias and antipathy to change, and that often is due to experience not education. Our ancient tribal instincts are deeply woven in some part of our subconscious, and until we can actually look at all humans as our brothers and sisters, we will not be able to subdue our fear and hostility of those who aren’t like us. As Robert Burns* commented: “Good Lord, what is man!! For simple he looks, do but try to develop his hooks and his crooks, with all his depths and his shallows, his good and his evil, all and all, he’s a problem must puzzle the devil.” Until we admit to ourselves that each of us needs to make some changes within, we probably will continue to be puzzles, living in a puzzling world.
Fortunately, there are those who seem to find a way to rise above fear and suspicion; they don’t emit that primal scream response but act in compassion and love. They quietly go about the business of making wherever they live a better place. They may not get a lot of recognition, but their basic goodness, and caring spirits light many paths other than their own. And once you have ministered to someone, it is no longer possible to think of them as “other”. I think here of people who bring laughter, cheerful conversation and maybe a helpful tonic to a friend in pain, those who drive people to doctor’s appointments, send cards of encouragement, keep their friends in their prayers, read stories to children, rescue stray dogs and cats and prepare food for those who hunger. While it is nice and newsworthy to invent new medications, create an unusual App or speak for human rights at the United Nations, it is the persons who just keep moving quietly among their fellow-humans, applying bandages and scattering seeds of peace and joy as they go along, who really keep our world from imploding. We simply need to look after each other and do what we can.
I’ve had occasion lately to visit a massage therapist or two; their healing hands keep me moving. In a discussion with one of them, we spoke about how all of us have the potential to be healers. Whenever we choose a smile over a scowl, kind words in lieu of hurtful ones, to look at those who are different with acceptance, we are spreading a healing elixir. There are no educational requirements, class demands or earned fame that matter at all. Emerson** says this quite well: “To laugh often and much --- to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children --- To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends --- To appreciate beauty and find the best in others --- To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition--- To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived ----- this is to have succeeded.”
So if you are feeling overwhelmed now that spring is here ---- if you are running from pillar to post; from the garden to the church meeting to the grocery store to your child’s baseball game; wincing at the nightly news ---- STOP! First, take a moment to inhale deeply spring’s fragrant aromas. Think long about how and where you fit into Emerson’s ideas of success. And take several moments during each day to rejoice that you are alive and that you are you in the midst of this “merry month of May”.
*Robert Burns ---- Scottish poet. 1759-1796. Poet and Lyricist, also known as the Bard of Ayrshire.
**Ralph Waldo Emerson ---- American Poet. 1803-1882. Essayist, philosopher and poet who led the Transcendentalist Movement of the mid-19th century.
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.