Newspaper headlines proclaimed that 16 people were killed in shootings across the United States this Memorial Day weekend. On the next page, an article celebrated the fact that roses now are at their peak in southern Pennsylvania. I look out my study window and agree. My rosebushes are loaded with blossoms that glow in the morning sunlight, releasing their sweet perfume into the air. To paraphrase the 14th century Sufi poet Hafiz, the roses have again opened their hearts and given us all their beauty.
Bombs fell last night on Kyiv, destroying homes and lives, strewing the streets with pieces of shrapnel and roofing. And yet, I know where there is a small twiggy nest, carefully built with ancient bird knowledge and lined with a bit of soft fluff. Soon there will be pale brown eggs resting in it. Birds sing their morning joy in my backyard; and they sing in Ukraine, too.
Someone in my town lost their apartment last week. They couldn’t pay the rent, and they were way behind on utilities. And yet, the strawberries at the roadside stand are sweetly delicious, and I’ll probably make strawberry shortcake for dinner this evening.
Public discourse overflows with ugly sniping hostility and name-calling. The subject may be elections or debt limits or guns; the language is designed to inflame. And yet, two days ago, I rejoiced with others as a couple in their late 60’s who had journeyed together for twenty years tenderly spoke their marriage vows. Life is finite, they declared, and we choose to pledge ourselves to love.
My daily life this spring holds roses and birdsong, new nests and faithful love. Springtime itself is evidence of a renewal of life and hope for a harvest. I know I am blessed in living amid peace and security so that I can truly believe in renewal and hope for the future.
And yet. I dare not turn away from the grief and pain of others’ lives. I can’t read about peak rose blooming season and skip the page about bombings in Kyiv. I can’t ignore the need for affordable housing and simply lose myself in the gifts of delectable strawberries and birdsong. For many people, this is not a hopeful season but one of destruction and despair.
In his famous poem “Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
Is he right? Is our world in a doomed time of destruction when, as Yeats believed, “the blood-dimmed tide is loosed”? Or can the “centre” be rebuilt with springtime hope and love – in spite of guns and bombs and inflammatory threats? I don’t know. I only know what Hafiz has said.
In Ladinsky’s translation of Hafiz, I read this poem:
It Felt Love How Did the rose Ever open its heart And give to the world All its beauty?
And the answer followed:
It felt the encouragement of light Against its Being, Otherwise We all remain Too Frightened.
Yes, there are plenty of reasons we are too frightened to open our hearts. In a time when “things fall apart,” we seek to protect our hearts by remaining closed rather than take the risk of opening.
The title of the Hafiz poem is “It Felt Love.” The encouragement we humans need so that we will open our hearts and give our unique beauty to the world is love.
May we open our hearts and give to the world the beauty of our nest-building, our peace-making, and the sweetness of our loving. May we take the risk of living in love so that Yeats’ prophetic poem of doom will not become true. May we live in hope.
If this reflection has spoken to you, please share it with others.