“April come!” our daughter Claire used to plead at bedtime. Her favorite lullaby was Simon & Garfunkel’s classic, “April Come She Will.” But the pleading was play-acting: she knew her father loved nothing more than to sing that song to her and her baby brother Nick.
This morning, my husband teared up as he read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s poignant account in Braiding Sweetgrass of taking her daughter off to college. He and I laughed as we recalled our own last manic trip from Claire’s dorm room to Target for hangers—the only remaining little something we could think of to do before we would have to say goodbye. Three years later, we did it all again when it was Nick’s turn.
I read Kimmerer’s book a few months ago, and loved it, and so it made me happy that Rustin was loving it too. And remembering that long-ago college move-in day—can it really be nearly 14 years?!—was a moment of April sweetness, one of so many in this showery, sunny month, when streams are ripe and swelled with rain; this moment of the year that is bursting with newborn life every which way you look.
On one morning walk in the scrap of forest that backs my urban neighborhood, I saw this. And this. And this.
And yet. I am still so quick to brood (that editor hasn’t gotten back to me) and fuss (why is my stupid Zoom suddenly going choppy?!) and whine (wish I could… wish I could… wish I could…)
And yet. I got my second Moderna shot seven days ago. Safety is now imaginable.
Remember last April? No. Don’t. I will do it for you, but only for a moment. The main difference between last April and this is that a year ago, the fear of death hung over the world like a thick, horror-movie fog. I know that it still does, in many places. India. Uruguay. But the difference is that we know so much more than we did in April 2020. We know that masks work. That testing is important. And—this still astounds me—vaccines now exist, and more and more people are getting them every day.
Last April was also, for our family, a month of anguish and grief after our nephew died of a drug overdose. That grief will never not be present, and it’s easy to return to the head-whipping shock of it on these April days, as I’m sure it is for every family who suffered losses last year.
But I do remember, even during that painful time, feeling so grateful for every sign of spring. For spring not having been somehow cosmically canceled, along with everything else that was then in the throes of being canceled.
And if anything, I’m even more grateful for spring this year, because new life does not feel like a cosmic anomaly. It does not feel fragile. It feels like what is supposed to happen.
April come she will. May, she will stay.
However. What I’m feeling now is a sort of need to catch up. It seems the flowers and ferns are way ahead of me.
Is it because I’m still afraid? Not of imminent death, but of life?
If I seize this day, will it seize me back? Will it see me?
Like many of us, I have struggled this year with feeling invisible. Irrelevant. For months, my number-one civic duty was not to get sick. Not at my age, when I might wind up in a precious hospital bed. Yes, I did my best to stay engaged—in writing, teaching, our video work; in friendships and groups and causes and church—from the safe confines of this laptop and the Zoom screen it can so magically summon at will. But doesn’t it feel odd to exist primarily as a hologram? For more than a year now?
And so, every day, I flee the screen and go up the block and into the woods. And here’s another difference between Spring 2020 and Spring 2021: I touch things. A year ago, I didn’t, because someone else might’ve touched that tree or that leaf, and we believed then that such a touch could make us sick. But now I do: bark, moss, leaves; even, ever so carefully, a petal. And I take photos, because it helps me to focus on the wonder of it all.
Organizational psychologist Adam Grant recently wrote an essay for the New York Times about what he calls “languishing,” a state he sees many people mired in after a year-plus of the pandemic. “Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness,” Grant writes. Not depressed doesn’t mean you’re not struggling. Not burned out doesn’t mean you’re fired up. By acknowledging that so many of us are languishing, we can start giving voice to quiet despair and lighting a path out of the void.”
The best antidote for languishing, says Grant, is flow: “that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away.”
As I look back over the pandemic months, I think I understand what Grant is getting at. When I am absorbed in writing or reading or walking in the woods or having a good conversation, I feel alive. I might also be feeling joy or sorrow, but I do not feel stagnant or empty.
But there have been many hours or days when I couldn’t seem to ever get to “flow,” when the sadness and anxiety and grief smothered whatever tiny flame of “flow” I was trying to fan. And “languishing” seems the perfect word for the way those days felt.
In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer writes about kayaking on a lake hours after dropping her daughter off at college. “My little boat began to rock gently, like a cradle on the water. Held by the hills and rocked by the water, the hand of the breeze against my cheek, I gave myself over to the comfort that came, unbidden.”
May we all give ourselves over. And when we can’t, then may we be kind to ourselves. Give voice to despair, as needed. Light the path, when we’re able.
Kimmerer wrote that on that day she drove her daughter to college, she made sure to leave her porch light on, so that she would not come home to a dark house.
April, come she will. When streams are ripe and swelled with rain.
May, she will stay. Resting in my arms again.