Humility in the In-Between Times
The pansy’s party dresses were crushed earlier this week, the birds bunkered, as baffled as we by April snow three days after the thermostat read 70.
Fat flakes fell, and a pair of Lenten roses occupying a vase on my desk bowed their heads.
Seeing them, I understood. This is the in-between time, a season of illusions. It is dangerous for early bloomers to expose themselves the way the true roses will in a month or so, perfumed and proud in their silks and pearls.
I got up and went out for a walk in the storm. Along the way, I passed an old woman bending to a task as old as time – breaking and binding the dead wood from her winter beds. Carefully, she swept up a welter of thorns and grey shoots. It almost knocked her down. Out of the corner of my eye I watched her pile and sort, finding a rhythm in gathering lengths into bundles. She girdled them in strips of old shirting and set them by the curb. It would take the better part of her chilly afternoon, this choreography of the in-between time. And I was moved by her act of care, of communion with the living and dying world close to hand.
When I returned, it seemed to me that I had seen in the woman and the Lenten roses the presence of wisdom, in a world that seems singularly lacking in it today. At times such as these, times of wild fluctuations, there appear creatures we don’t see at other times. They arrive with a humility that takes the breath away. Old women set to annual tasks. Quiet friends who make themselves at home in the midst of a family death and put the coffee on. The neighbors who visit the Alzheimer’s unit every day. Delicate, grass-tinted, blooms. They don’t announce themselves. Far from it. They have to be sought, tricked out from beneath their various camouflage, and when found, held gently, their faces lifted to be seen.
It may well be that this is the case for all of the great secret things in our lives — and the hurt, and winter-blasted ones as well. The low-growing beauties and the dead wood are always with us; we just don’t see them, because we are so fixed on our hot house illusions and goals and disputes (political, domestic, you name it) — cultivars that take so much energy and light.
We do well to mistrust first sights and full-head daffodils and the fantasies we spin from them. Somewhere close by, it is good to remember that the humble are working the soil in ways too numerous to name. With a bit of awareness and self-forgetting, we may even join them. Ready in their quiet presence to see others through the storms.