By Alison Mockett Wash
I remember what I learned about Spring as a child: coloring a tree with pink flowers, learning about the birth of baby animals, and singing the rhyme “April showers bring May flowers.”
I know that the Spring equinox occurs in March, that many religious occasions, such as Easter, celebrate Spring and new growth and a time of renewal. But since living in the East Bay, I’ve often felt that same sense of renewal around the beginning of November, with the fall of the first rain.
During the summer, I watch the hills of Mount Diablo turn from golden to a dusty, tired brown. The air grows heavy with the collected exhaust from the refineries in Martinez and from the minivans and SUVs driving kids to swim meets and soccer practice.
By October, there is a sense of expectation; we’re ready to turn off our sprinkler systems and unpack the fleece vests. Then the rains come, filling the cracks in the clay-based soil, washing away chalk drawings on our driveways, and clearing the skies so that you can actually see the Golden Gate Bridge when driving through the Caldecott Tunnel.
I take my children for a walk at the Lafayette Reservoir and show them the tiny green shoots of new grass, rising bravely from the dense earth. We laughingly make up a new jingle, “the rains in November mean, that December will be green.”
The hillsides fill up with new growth, painting the landscape with every shade from celadon to emerald to hunter.
This year, I await that renewal with a greater expectation than ever before. Despite the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the year 2002 had started out well for my family.
My youngest sister, newly married, began a great new job and bought a house. Another sister rejoiced in the discovery of her first pregnancy, while her husband, too, started a great new job.
I continued to be thankful for the daily wonders involved in raising three children. Then, last spring, tragedy struck our family with all the ice and force of a winter storm. My youngest sister’s husband died suddenly from a massive heart attack. He was 30 years old, athletic and unsuspecting.
For a family that had always been uncommonly fortunate, grief now had us in its grip. The flowers I remember that spring were ones that came in vases to my sister’s door.
We cried and grappled with unanswerable questions. My sister now stood on the edge of a precipice where once, stretched out before her, there had been a path.
We managed to move through the crisis, feeling grateful for family bonds and strength of community. As summer approached we looked hopefully up to the sun, expecting its warmth.
But there would be no thaw yet. For that summer, my other sister’s baby girl was born with a rare, untreatable, genetic disorder. After three weeks of struggle in the neonatal intensive care unit, she died in her parents’ arms.
I don’t believe there was a reason for these events. But I believe we can find meaning in them in order to move forward. I now have a greater appreciation about life, and I don’t mean an appreciation of life as opposed to death, which may be the cliché, but an appreciation of death as a part of life.
Just as life holds great happiness it also holds great sadness. The passage on joy and sorrow in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet struck me deeply: “…the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears…The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
Yes, I thought, as I read it over and over. It is only because of the depth of our love that we grieve.
I don’t mean this to sound apathetic, like “Oh, that’s life,” but passionate, “this is Life!” with all the honor and awe that I feel towards this world and the life we are given. Recognizing that tragedies sometimes befall us is not fatalistic or cynical but reverent and respectful of our life experience.
We grieve, but I find a small comfort in knowing that a loss can deepen life’s meaning by broadening our experience of it. We may not be grateful for the gift, but it is a gift, nonetheless.
Now, as we approach November, I am ready for the rain. I will go looking for the green shoots in the hills with my children and when we see them, forming borders beside the dirt paths and pushing up among the dry grasses, I will know that Winter is over, and Spring is here.
Alison Mockett Wash wrote this soon after the death of her niece, Julia Mockett Hutcherson. It first appeared in the Contra Costa Times.