It always snows here at the end of April, big white drifts of cherry blossoms, like little spirits. Lower branches go first, then uppers, nodding at a teasing sou’easter as masses of pale corollae go slant-petaling down past grizzled treebark. You never see the moment of tremble and separate, you just see them fly. April is a time of flowering trees and daffodils. In May, ground gardens feel more sure of themselves.
A woman cried out on Twitter: My brother died of #Covid-19 today. Her voice a flickering candle in a hurricane. Three thousand people clicked on the heart and tried to comfort her with tweets. All were birds in a windstorm. Our shared trauma is too big to not try and gather around to comfort strangers, but it’s too pre-verbal to know what to say. A friend lost her baby two weeks before Mother’s Day, she was 30 weeks pregnant and it just died in her womb. Another friend lost her mother. I cannot imagine having to grieve alone, with only time as companion. Yet I grieve, because their losses feel personal. Everything feels personal these days. Even time.
So I look time straight in the eye and say, “How do you do, I’m here now, can we get along?”
And time says, “You don’t really know me, do you?”
And I say, “Well, patience has never been my strong suit, but I did once watch frost forming.”
And time replies, “Why not sit for a spell?”
So I did, and time gave me an early morning bloom bursting forth from its tissue-paper cocoon to the wildness that is Iris, a thing to behold. Have you ever looked at an Iris up close? Those punk yellow mohawks, the trembling royal velvet skin, (for it feels moist, more like skin than petals), and that crown of top folds, cryptic with the next glory? Outside my window, my companion smiled and nodded in dulcet colors topped with shrieking bands of neon fur surrounded by tiger stripes.
You know? I thought, Sometimes I feel like an iris, too, all passion and shriek on the outside over my soft-skinned secrets.
After getting an eyeful of every detail, I left for for my morning walk, confident it would be there when I returned, but it was not to be. It had collapsed, the hydrostatic pressure inside its cells unable to diffuse enough water to maintain the plumpness needed to keep an iris upright. Its time had come. The parts of the stem that had supported all that glory gathered the shrunken flower and curled around it like a hand, as if in sympathy. It grew quiet and still next to a new emergence of iris wildness.
For many busy lives, it’s been habitually impossible to force our attention spans to sit still long enough to notice things that happen at the speed of other lives. What is the speed of a flower? A cherry tree? A continent? What is the speed of geologic time, and is it faster than the speed of the universe? Can I witness time’s passage without looking away after a few minutes? What is the speed of a human life? Can it be lengthened if we slow down?
This has been a Springtime of noticing. Each day on my early morning walks, I try to notice something I’ve never seen before. For four weeks I took the same route, just to see if I could find something new, to surprise myself. Could I sustain being in the moment? With a passing view of familiar houses, trees, and small gardens, you’d think it might not be possible that anything new would yield itself and that my attention would drift. But I noticed something new every day. Amazing.
This year the unwanted gift of endless time in quarantine has brought me more into the present, and into closer relationship with trees, flowers, clouds and wind—as well as with myself. We humans, whose mortal molecules are made of the same borrowed stardust as irises and cherry blossoms, are part of the flow of all these other lives.