The dogwoods are passing their peak … maybe. The blossoms are rusting like cut apples, browning slightly. Today’s stiff spring wind is blowing flakes of white flight. But I am loving this season of the dogwood, too, because the fading blossoms are surrounded by green leaves growing out and among the branches and blooms.
I get it, dogwood. Even as I am fading in some ways — skin, shape, speed — I am growing in others. I hesitate to say how, in my out-loud voice. But I will claim willingness. Determination. Patience (with the occasional sigh, if not outburst). On the good days, love. I think I am becoming more loving. I certainly want to be becoming more loving … that counts for something, I hope.
A shred of a Rilke poem the other day spoke to this question of fading and blooming. It went like this:
The almond trees in bloom: all we can accomplish here is to ever know ourselves in our earthly appearance.
I endlessly marvel at you, blissful ones — at your demeanor, the way you bear your vanishing adornment with timeless purpose. Ah, to understand how to bloom: then would the heart be carried beyond all milder dangers, to be consoled in the great one.
I imagine Rilke, sitting near an almond tree, at the point its blooms began to fall. Perhaps the tree was greening; perhaps the fruit was forming. In any case, Rilke knew what I am learning: that understanding how to bloom includes knowing how to fall, when the time comes. And, knowing how to fall, we’ll not fear the milder dangers — like a loss of face, or form — and we will find consolation as we face the great … what? The great One? The great danger? The poem is not clear. That’s all right. Neither am I. But I know there is always a greater: a greater fear, a greater loss … a greater aim, a greater joy.
And finding what is greater always seems to entail loss. What adorns us — whether in appearance or power or might — will vanish. What will we have in that vanishing that stays, that is real?
The One I try to follow knew these truths. As the cheering crowds laid palm branches before the small donkey on which he rode, Jesus must have known how quickly the bloom would fade, and must have felt some frisson of fear wondering if the green of life truly would grow — for him, and for us — amidst the falling.
Speak, dogwood. Teach, almond. Sing hosannas, palms, as you fall before the One journeying on. Show us, holy trees, how it is we are to live, amid the rounding seasons of our lives.