Last night, when T. and I were snuggled into her bed, after reading the latest installment of this book, she asked me what Easter was all about. I pulled her close. It's all about you, I thought--and all the children in the world, and the future that rests on your shoulders, and in your hands. But that seemed a little too scary and abstract to lay on the head of my seven-year old daughter at bedtime. Instead, we talked about spring, and about how the message of Easter that resonates the most with me is the one that centers around re-growth, hope, and new life. We talked about good and bad things in the world, and about how at spring everything in the world has the chance to begin again, in better, more positive ways--if we let it, and if we work to make this happen.
"And there are lots of flowers," T. added. "And bugs. And pollen."
Oh yes, there are those things, too.
When you are a child, spring seems tinged always in vivid color and a sense of promise everywhere. Spring is about shedding winter clothes, and sniffing out the hint of the summer to come. It's about taking your shoes off on the back porch, and letting your toes uncurl against the warming wood. But as you grow older you begin to feel the weight of the tension between the old dying off, and the new springing forth and you realize that spring can be a heavy, sad time too, a time in which you feel too keenly the fact that life and death are the perfect undersides of each other; woven together as inextricably as nothing else is in this world.
I remember one Easter, years ago, when I was a child, not much older than T. is now. I'd been very sick--maybe with the flu, or strep--I can't remember. But I'd been sick enough to run a high fever, and stay inside, and barely eat. On Easter morning I was finally well enough to go outside and I remember standing there in the backyard, in a scratchy Easter dress, blinking painfully in the bright morning light, feeling like a small shadow of myself, and also feeling--instead of happy and joyous--suddenly very, very sad. Everything seemed so bright, and vibrant, and overwhelming and I felt so weak and small inside, so aware of how sick I'd been, and of how the world had just gone on springing forth, and still would, whether I was there or not.
And then the memory was buried, under years more of happy, colorful, joyous springy Easter days, unrolled like a merry parade in front of me.
Elementary school. Middle school. High school.
Years later, when I was an undergraduate in college, a well-known professor from some prestigious university in England (and I can't remember his name, or where he taught--sorry, learned professor) came to visit my English literature class that spring semester and gave a guest lecture on T.S. Eliot. I had been struggling--as everyone does--with The Waste Land--and it wasn't working for me. But this professor spent the class reading the entirety of the text, from start to finish, and it was only as he read those first lines in his beautifully British, carefully articulated accent, that I understood what spring truly meant. I saw myself again as a small child standing, blinking in the sharp spring sunshine; seeing, for the first time, and with a sense of heavy clarity, just how painful spring can be: how it can be both amazing and wonderful and cruel, all at once.