“If you don’t get what you want, you suffer; if you get what you don’t want, you suffer; even when you get exactly what you want, you still suffer because you can’t hold on to it forever. Your mind is your predicament. It wants to be free of change. Free of pain, free of the obligations of life and death. But change is law and no amount of pretending will alter that reality.”Socrates
It is the first week of March and, here in Oklahoma, spring has started to . . . uhm . . . well, spring. My peach trees are the opening act in the orchard and the daffodils are leading the parade in the rock garden by the road. The instructor in my gardening class yesterday was none too happy about the appearance of the lovely buds and blooms on his fruit trees. “It is a tad early,” he said. “Tad” is legitimate term for unit of measure, the exact amount of which is known only by the person using it. Then, because he’s a positive guy, he adds, “but, looking at the extended forecast, we should be okay.”
Spring is on the way, there is no stopping it. I should be happy and I most certainly am, but there is the other emotion… what is it? Panic? Regret? Something else?
This has always been my dilemma with spring. Instead of spending the months from December through February fulfilling winter’s purpose – rest, restore, reflect – I spend it yearning for spring. And then, the moment that first bud appears, I panic. “No, no, wait!” my manic voice says. “Slow down a minute.”
Spring is a very short season. Okay, technically, that is not true because by the calendar, spring lasts just as long as the other seasons. But, here in Oklahoma, spring-like weather, is fleeting. If you blink, you will miss it. Very soon, it will be summer hot and that heat will last well into the fall. Summer is a greedy season – it is a rude party guest, barging in early before the host is prepared, and overstaying its welcome when the host just wants to go to bed. Fall, is another fleeting season at the end of the summer, much anticipated by football and pumpkin spice fans whose population usually consists of those who cannot tolerate extreme heat. But, then winter. . .
I always find myself feeling ill prepared for it for spring’s arrival. Being my favorite season, I want to make the most of it, experience it to its fullest capacity, and not find myself in June feeling I had missed it. I need to get the seed onions and potatoes in the ground, I think. Am I too late for kale or broccoli? It was below freezing last week, there was snow on the ground, how did this happen so quickly?
But under scrutiny, I realize that’s not the thick of my feeling of regret. Yes, it is regret that I feel; regret that it will be over soon, and it hasn’t even started. Welcome to my pool of madness, get in, the water is warming. I regret something being over, before it has even started. But that is spring in Oklahoma, isn’t it?
The main issue, I believe is that the start of spring, the parade welcoming it in, lasts such a very short time. The daffodils arrive and will last the week, maybe ten days. The tulips bloom for a moment before the Oklahoma wind makes them rue the day they even tried. Soon, they look nothing like the pictures in the catalog from which they were purchased, with a petal or two pitifully hanging on until a 40 mph gust strips them completely naked.
The Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), will soon start their display of deep pink blooms. Brief aside: I like to think a colorblind indigenous gentleman named these years ago. Lacking the ability to see the various shades of color, he declared the buds of Oklahoma’s state tree “red.” Within a single week, all the redbuds will have burst forth with their color, and just as quickly, those buds will fall to the ground, giving way to green leaves.
The forsythia bushes, started by shoots from my mother’s yard, are waking up. Very soon – probably before I can hit publish on this post – the brilliant happy yellow will cover those disorganized limbs which make the bushes resemble a golden firework display. I love them so much., I can rarely pass a forsythia plant at the nursery without thinking I need more of them (I do need more of them). They make me happy; they equal spring. But they will stay in their festive welcome spring mood only a moment before taking off the party dresses in favor of the green they will wear until fall.
The clover and grasses have started to awaken and come alive with a brilliant green that will darken in the next month. The new growth smells sweet; and the morning sunlight is reflected in the dew drops. But, what is now naturally and easily vibrantly alive will soon need regular watering (and prayer) to help them survive the exhaustive heat and wind that “goes sweeping down the plain!”
I so look forward to spring and being able to get outside and work my garden without being overcome by the oppressive heat and humidity that will come. I look forward to the day when the windows can be thrown open and spring cleaning can begin. I try to mark the last day I had to wear a coat, and feel satisfaction in putting away the winter gloves in exchange for garden gloves.
But, then. . . I know it will be over and I get sad. Let that sink in! I get a little sad because spring has started to show up and I know it will be over soon. Oh no! The buds are coming out, I’m not ready! Slow down. Wait a moment, give me a minute to find a moment to just bask in your loveliness, savor the warm and color, take some pictures to memorialize it. Please, please, spring come, but not so fast and stay longer.
The opening act is so lovely and exciting, but soon the actors will take their final bows, the curtain falls and everyone talks about where to go for dinner.
Am I mental, or am I normal?
While I seem the most insane during spring, it is not just this season that I behave in this crazy manner. There are the weeks moving into Christmas, when the joy of putting up the tree is shadowed by the acknowledgement that I will have to take it down, carefully wrap those old ornaments, and return it all to the attic. The six months of planning my wedding, then it was over. The honeymoon trip to Alaska was glorious, and then we flew home. The year of building our house, making all those decisions picking out paint and bricks and windows (oh, the lovely windows), and seeing the result in my head… and now we live here and there is dusting to do and the dogs track in mud. The months of chemotherapy, looking forward to “remission” and I could start to grow my hair back and not vomit every day, it happened and then the days were just normal days. The coming of spring and all its warmth and color. All these things have one thing in common. . . anticipation.
They say happiness is fleeting. Buddha called it “dukkha” which is anything temporary. We cannot maintain happiness, because the thing that made us happy cannot stay the same. The seasons change, and I look forward to each change. But, then when the fan fare is over, and the season’s normality sets in, or we are living in a finished house, or the same lovable spouse, or good normal health and everything levels off. We cannot sustain that high level of joy all the time because it just becomes normal.
The second noble truth in Buddhism – samudaya – refers to suffering. We suffer because we desire or crave things. If we crave things we are assured of achieving then we have anticipation. If we crave things we aren’t assured of achieving, then we suffer. I will take this a little bit further, and say that once the anticipation is over, we suffer because we crave the high that is anticipation.
Anticipation is the buildup to the climax, but the afterglow can only be sustained so long. Anticipation is a gateway drug to happiness, and it takes more and more of it to make us happy and we have to figure out how to be happy with the ordinary. Oh, to be content in the ordinary without the constant buzz of anticipation.
What is the solution? I have no idea.
I guess I’ll plant more onions.