“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”
It's cold and rainy here in southern New England today. I have an Easter Egg Hunt scheduled for this Saturday with the Sunday School kids and the forecast calls for "rain and snow showers" with a temperature in the high 30's.
April is indeed the cruelest month.
It's also one of the ugliest, at least in the beginning. Everything is brown and drab and covered in a layer of mud. We still have a few hold-out mounds of snow tucked into shaded corners but even those are covered in the dirty soot that time and passing cars have laid upon them. Grey skies, cold rain…the only bits of color I spotted on my 25 mile drive to school the other day were the bright blue plastic bins that were tossed haphazardly at the end of driveways after the recycle truck made its weekly rounds.
I'm waiting for the color to come.
The yellow of the Forsythia.
The pink and white blossoms of the Cherry trees.
The brick red of the wood chips scattered by landscapers getting a jump on the season.
The infinite shades of green that spring out from the ground and the twigs of bushes.
The splash of rainbow emanating from flowering plants pushing up on the roadside and in tended gardens alike.
We're at least a few weeks away from all that.
One day the world is brown and grey and the next day, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we awake to color bursting out from every corner of our vision. It's as if God threw a switch lighting up the carousel of nature in all its splendor.
April does indeed mix "memory and desire."
The snow and crisp air of winter are gone, the landmarks of Spring are not yet here. It's an in-between time that like the transition between Fall and Winter is devoid of life. How else do we fill this time but with thoughts of the past and hopes for the future?
During this time of year my mind can't help but drift to memories of Aprils and Easters past…
I am three years old watching my mother button up the front of my new spring coat. It is pink and made of a soft fuzzy fabric and I know that we must be going someplace special because the only other time I was allowed to wear it was on Easter Sunday two weeks before. She is taking me to the hospital to have my third operation in as many years to fix the cleft palate that I was born with. I had no idea where we were going, nor did I know that the operation would once again be unsuccessful. I did not know to be afraid. All I knew, and all I remember, is the excitement of wearing of my new pink coat, and the feeling of love and protection emanating from my mother as she stooped before me pushing the tiny buttons through stitched slots, making sure her youngest daughter was safe and warm.
Fast forward in time and I am 16-years-old. Riding in a car beside my mother watching the bleak landscape of yet another April scroll past the window. We are once again heading to the hospital, this time for my seventh and final operation. It was a new and complicated procedure that the doctor assured us would be successful. It was… but I did not know it at the time.
As I watched the barren trees slide in and out my vision I wrestled with the memory of an operation I had two years prior, one that was not successful….most likely due to the scar tissue that had accumulated from prior operations, but this did not deter the doctor from blaming the negative outcome on "patient attitude" - I did not want it to be successful therefore it was not.
What a horrible thought to put in the mind of child.
Was I scared? Yes - being left alone in a hospital, dealing with pain, uncertainty and the unfamiliar scrutiny of doctors and nurses.
Was I nervous about the outcome? Certainly - I knew the expectations of the doctor, I knew my track record was against me, I knew the medical bills were stacking up on my father's desk, I knew all the worry and upheaval to routine my mother was experiencing having to traipse back and forth to the hospital to visit me.
Did I not want the operation to be successful? There was a part of me that didn't. The part of me that used my speech impediment as a reason not to speak up, not to participate, not to claim a space in the world for myself. Being shy is not a good enough reason to be a mouse in this world. It's not normal to want to be alone, to shun social situations, to prefer to get lost in your own imagination rather than hang out with your peers.
Having a cleft palate gave me a physical reason to be an introvert. How would I exist in the world without it?
What I didn't know as I watched the April trees standing black against the steel grey sky was that I would learn how to exist without it. That not having it to fall back on forced me to rely on what I did have - a sense of humor, a curiosity about life, and a good sense of what made me happy and what made me sad. I learned how to get the words in my head to come out of my mouth, and with the fear of ridicule subsiding, I discovered that I had a voice, and that voice had a place in this world just as any other.
April is a time of "stirring dull roots with spring rain." And I can remember many more Aprils where roots that lied dormant suddenly sprung to life. When I got my first job. When I purchased my first home. When I took my first weekend trips up to CT to be with the woman who is now my wife. When I walked into a United Church of Christ sanctuary for the first time and discovered what had been missing in my spiritual life, and was gifted with a new sense of clarity as to where God was leading me with this call to ministry.
There is part of me that dreads this time of year with all its memories of past hurts and agonizing wait for things to come. And there is part of me that knows that all of it is necessary; we need to till the mud loosened soil to expose the potential for life that lies below. We need to stick our hands in the muck and the messiness that we would rather ignore and root out the bulbs to expose them to the air.
April is all about appreciating the browns and the blacks because without them the reds and the yellows and the greens would not have a canvas to lay upon.
April is all about "breeding lilacs out of the dead land."