If there was a moment when spring sprang, I missed it. It must have happened while I was out of town last week for my grandfather’s funeral, mourning his death while the earth burst to life.
Strange, to think that I was draped in black while the trees donned frilled pink tutus and petaled taffeta hats. Now, as I settle back into my typical routine, still processing a goodbye buried deep underground in silent stillness, the crocuses are sprouting from the same soil, glimmering with giddy newness.
I never think I’m especially fond of spring until every year, when it takes me by surprise. Suddenly, I find myself drunk on its symphony of technicolor smells.
I ambled through the Union Square farmers market at the start of my lunch break on Wednesday, and I fell in love at least 53 times. I have the iPhone photos to prove it, though most are blurry: amber-toned tulips, perfect painted pansies, orchids craning towards the sky. I swooned and mooned and ooohed over so many different shades and shapes of bloom, reminded that science and magic can be the same thing.
For $5, I bought two tiny daffodils and a hyacinth. I picked the ones that were still shut up inside themselves, their buds unbroken, preparing themselves for their slow and silent explosions.
Afterwards, toting my new plants in a plastic bag, I walked over to Washington Square Park to eat the lunch I’d packed. I chose an unshaded bench. It was late — I’d worked a long morning that seeped into the first several hours of the afternoon, then lost more minutes than I’d intended in enraptured admiration of those rippled seas of billowed market blossoms — and I was hungry.
As I pulled my food from my backpack, stomach growling, the class container fell to the ground and shattered, smattering broccoli across the sidewalk and into the dirt.
For a moment, it occurred to me to be angry, or at least frustrated; to toss a few irked profanities into the air the way gravity had tossed my food from my hands. The f-word might have felt good, perhaps coupled with a stomp and a “damn it.” It was going to be an especially good lunch, and the glass container was a new gift from my mom, which I should have known better than to take out of my apartment.
But instead, I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders. “Oh, well,” I thought, practicing the tenacious lightheartedness of a daffodil. “Moving on.”
In an instant of focused mindfulness, perhaps fostered by the nowness of that ravishing tryst with Mother Nature at the market, it occurred to me that annoyance would be entirely unproductive. Indulging in exasperation would only enforce a subconscious belief that life is not on my side; that tiny inconveniences are substantial symbols of an unkind, unfair world, demanding constant defense against its unexpected perils; that there was ever any sure and promised plan to be spoiled in the first place.
It was just broccoli. Just an accident. Nothing more and nothing less. Oh, well. Moving on.
And so I did. I got up and went to buy myself a new lunch at a nearby Indian take-out restaurant I’d been intending to try, listening to the birds chirping as if nothing had happened. When I returned, I found a different sun-drenched seat.
As I write this on Friday, it’s pouring rain outside. An hour ago, it was was perfectly sunny. Sunday’s forecast calls for snow.
This is what spring is always like: a nonstop back-and-froth between pushing up sweaty sweater sleeves and shivering inside winter coats, shielded from sudden showers. Spring is a fickle flirt. One minute, she’s warm, kissing cheeks with sunny lips and doling out dozens upon dozens of flowers; the next, she’s a gray-faced grump, giving the cold shoulder. She’s a mercurial and meandering coquette, a capricious little charmer, always changing her mind unapologetically.
She’s so unlike winter and summer, those steady stalemates that ask us to sit still and settle into their intense constancy. Spring is the wobbly in-between, not an end result we can pin down, and she seems to ask us to dance dizzily alongside her. She keeps us on our toes, teetering in buoyant moments of delight that we know won’t last.
Bliss never lasts. That’s why it feels like magic. That’s why the flowers seem so sacred — because they dare to bloom anyway, while they can, those plucky things, so fresh and fierce and fragile.
What we can’t see, of course, is the grueling work that yields the eventual flourishing: the rumbling beneath the grass, the desperate twisting and twerking of the fibers in the leaves, the painful stretching of roots. The slow and subtle shifts happen deep down in the soil and somehow, imperceptibly, turn silent tree skeletons into hot pink firecrackers, erupting crocuses and tulips from where nothing once was.
My farmers market plants are now potted on my fire escape, where I can see them resting and growing simultaneously. Every morning, I lean out my window to give them cup-fulls of water, and I keep moving them around to make sure they’re getting enough sun.
I was told they’ll fully blossom within a week. And they’re already over halfway there, gradually peeling, unfurling, opening. The yellow and magenta tinges around the edges of the shoots have officially eclipsed the green.
I wonder if they can tell, somewhere in their sinews, that a frost might be coming. And I hope they can survive it.
I, too, want to unfurl some new form of myself. Like an unbroken bud, I can feel the packed-up bundle of impending change, but I can’t smell it; I can’t see the shape it’s going to take.
For the time being, I’m just trying to trust the capricious circuitousness of my own growth process. I’m trying to remember that we all have to worm our way up through the dark dirt before flowering in the light.
I’m practicing being fierce in my fragility and tenacious in my lighthearted looseness. I’m aiming for aimless amiability, instead of taking my simple struggles so seriously.
Life always keeps going. It keeps moving. The birds continue to chirp. However stagnant we feel, however tiny and stuck, something’s changing. Something’s shifting. We just can’t see it until after it’s happened, and what will be has burst into bright blossom.
You, too, are roots and rain. You are leaves and lungs, bold blooms exploding silently. Breathe deep and listen for the breeze, feeling for the parts of you that are uncoiling, unbuttoning, unpacking, opening, however slowly.
Take this moment, this unwieldy instant in your growth cycle, for what it is. And tend to it.