photo: David Norris
by David Norris
Our birth and our death are painted in one moment on the limbs of these trees.
Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now. of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
-- A.E. Housman (1859-1936)
Now, 50 years can seem a long time if we are engaged in misery, say perhaps, serving a prison term or working at a horrible job or living in a place we disdain. However, Housman is asking us in this poem to look at 50 years, at time, in a different way. Seasons are symbolic. Spring is the time of rebirth and new beginnings. It is the time of vigor and new journeys, the time of new experiences and of learning. Summer is romance. Summer is the time of love stories. The blood in our veins warms, the sun beats down on our heads, and love fills the air. Our passions rise. Fall is the harvest, and our harvest can be either bountiful or filled with sorrow. Winter is separation, and death is the ultimate separation.
As I grow older, I celebrate spring more and more each year. My home is Virginia, and in Virginia we have the dogwoods. In the spring the hills and woods and pastures are filled with these beautiful pink and white blossoms. But I havenít seen the dogwoods in spring since 1979. That is when I left my home and started traveling.
I have lived in Asia since 1985. I donít know when I will see the dogwoods in bloom or if I ever will see them bloom again.
When the blossoms arrive, they are only here for a heartbeat. We endure the cold, biting winter, and our reward is this brief moment of beauty. If we look at 50 years as 18,000 plus days, it can seem like a long time, but if we look at 50 years as only 50 more times to see this transient moment of beauty, then time is much shorter.
Think of it this way. Perhaps you are separated from someone you love, your mother or father, or perhaps your spouse. You can only share time together on occasion. How many more times will you see this person that you love while you are here on this earth? I lost my mom three years ago. I could only go back to the States to visit her every six months. Each time we visited, I thought about how it could be our last. Yes, ďtake from seventy springs a score, /It leaves [only] . . . fifty more.Ē
Today I took my students for a walk beneath the cherry blossoms. I do this every spring. Then we return to our classroom, and I have them write for 20 to 30 minutes. Afterwards, we share these writings. Some find a new pleasure and a new loveliness in the world. Others say how bored they were by it. Some write of matters which have nothing to do with the flowers. Yet, each piece they read is interesting and fresh, and many of them are filled with surprises.
When I was a young man, spring did not mean much to me, but as the years pass, each arrival of Potkkot fills me with joy when I see them covering the branches. This year I checked every day as I watched them approach. On Thursday, the first two arrived. On Friday the street was alive with them. On Monday, the snow covered them.
My great grandfather used to say, ďAs you grow older, life becomes more precious to you.Ē I did not believe him when I was a boy of 16. I believe him now. Today I subtracted my age from 70, and it made me sad to think of how many more times I have to see the blossoms in spring. Then I walked beneath them and they brought me comfort.
The cherry blossoms are especially moving. They cover the branches with snow. When the wind comes to take them away, the snow flutters in the air, and when we walk over them, we walk over the snow. Snow is the symbol of winter, and winter means separation; winter means death. But the blossoms are rebirth. They are the beginning. This juxtaposition of life and death, of ending and beginning, of exit and arrival fascinates me. Our birth and our death are painted in one moment on the limbs of these trees.
Celebrate the spring. Walk beneath the trees. Picnic beneath them. Speak to them and tell them you are glad they have returned. Sing to them. Drink wine beneath them, and spend your time with someone you love.
Want to read more of Davidís writing at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Sometimes We Just Have To Let Them Go
55 Minutes Past the Hour
Harlan Martinís 7 Turkeys
David has more great stories listed in our USADS Articles pages.
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