Sunday, April 4, 2010

Wherever green is worn

Easter Sunday. Seventy-two degrees and cloudless above the battered neighborhoods of northern New Jersey. I'm at the curb, picking gravel and pebbles out of the flower-beds deposited there by the snow plows six weeks ago. If I had enough time I'd get to them all. But none of us ever has enough time.

It seems as though I used to have more time, back in the days when I'd hike the Adirondack High Peaks with nothing but bug repellent, a couple of apples and a hunk of cheddar in my day-sack, standing below Mt. Marcy at Lake Tear in the Clouds, watching those clouds cluster and part. It was enough of a high to be there, quiet, peaceful yet alert, that I'd not even try to come to grips with the enormity of creation. The minerals had plenty of time, quartz, feldspar, mica, hornblende. So did the water, there at the source of the Hudson. Even the vultures riding the thermals appeared to have all the time in the world. They weren't bothered by death -- they feasted on it.

If I had more time, I would clear this bed of every stone. I would make it perfect. But I don't have the time and I can't. So I focus on removing the bigger ones, the obvious ones, and bend from the waist, pretending I'm doing yoga stretching, feeling the cords in my lower back extend and my hamstrings lengthen. The warm sun feels good. Six weeks ago, three feet of heavy wet snow lay on the ground here and the same muscles balked as I shoveled. I was sore for days. Today the young girls across the street are dressed in pink and yellow and J. is wearing a tie. All for Easter, first Mass, then to visit the grandparents. Every taste of joy comes with a tinge of sadness -- how can we make the day last long enough to redeem all the worthless moments that preceded it? We can't. I wave to them and they giggle and wave back. "Some day," J. says. "Sure is beautiful," I answer. "Happy Easter."

The world is gaining color, yellow forsythias, purple and white crocuses, bright green buds on the hydrangeas. Take a look at the tulip and daffodil stems -- resurrection is no myth in the plant kingdom. There's an enormous amount of life going on underground, just as there is in the visible world above. Jesus was a good man whose exemplary suffering moves me to this day. But he was no magician. He was a carpenter who ran out of time and became one with his followers -- the fishermen and cobblers, the whores and tax collectors. Saints we call them now but back then they were just ordinary people trying to make a living who found themselves interrupted by a big question. All of a sudden they had time on their hands. They could leave their nets and workbenches, their dirty alleys and counting rooms. They could wander around the countryside and talk to people, camp outside, let go of their everyday lives. And when they died they left behind a church. At least the law is something you can follow, unlike love. Love is an impossible act to follow. Just when you think you've got it, you run out of time.

Every one of these stones is different, their colors, their shapes, their sizes. Just bigger versions of the numberless grains of sand at the shore. I think it would take forever to count them all. There's probably no sense in going on. The bed looks better, anyway, and, besides, I'm tired. Today is Easter. I remember that great poem by William Butler Yeats -- "Easter 1916." Even a stone heart can be changed,
changed utterly. Yeats chose poetry over magic. I look around me at the magical world knowing I can't change it. But that doesn't mean I won't keep trying to love its living parts, as long as I have the use of my tongue.

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