May 24, 2006

Heart and Soil

1515 page22 capough, cough; wheeze, wheeze.
I’ve been home from work. Because I’ve been indoors for a week, I was startled when I emerged to visit the doctor’s office and the pharmacy to find that spring has sprung. During my cooped-up week, spring came in earnest to my little corner of the Midwest. Everything—everything—is in bloom. Crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, forsythia, tulip trees, even dandelions. Plus every fruit tree, redbud, shrub, and weeping willow seem to be decked out in that green gold that is still nature’s hardest hue to hold.
I thought of a spring, several years ago, when my colleague Irene and I were driving to an appointment. It was a week just like this one, and we waxed on about our love of spring, about how our winter eyes hungered for color, about how hopeful we found spring blossoms. Our eyes were drawn to a huge drift of yellow up ahead on the interstate, and we talked on and on about how amazing it was to see such great drifts of daffodils, what a gift it is to the neighborhood to allow these spring bulbs to naturalize and cover whole swaths of the roadside like this—how their simple beauty transformed a sterile stretch of road into a path of pure beauty, etc. Yessirree, we were veritable springtime chatterboxes, all-wise with our blooming commentary.
1515 page22As we drove closer, however, the yellow drift looked a bit odd, and then kind of suspect, and then downright wrong. As we passed, we finally realized (to our chagrin) that this daffodil drift about which we had waxed rhapsodic was in fact . . . a pile of trash stuffed into yellow garbage bags. Our drift of beauty was in fact a heap of trash. We laughed ourselves silly.
Yet somehow heaps of yellow-bagged trash have now entered my personal imaging system as sightings of spring—no doubt to keep my wistfulness in check; perhaps because spring-cleaning is right up there with other valued spring activities; and partly because the memory of that silly sighting reminds me that if I’m not careful, I’ll see, not what’s there in life, but what I expect to see. I’m certainly not the first person to quietly confuse trash with beauty.
While waiting for the cold and allergy symptoms to subside, I’ve been doing bits of spring-cleaning around my heart and home. When the springtime sun hits at just the right angle, I’m horrified at the dust on my furniture and windows that somehow went unnoticed during the long winter months of weak sunshine. Windows and blinds finally get deserved attention, and put-off projects get spiffed up at last.
I recently turned that clarifying springtime sunlight toward a new target. Me. I’ve noticed, with familiar surprise, that several things have crept into my life while I wasn’t looking. A too casual way with language. A certain caffeine drink. Just a few things that I hadn’t guarded against, and that had somehow taken root in my otherwise conservative life, unbidden and unnoticed. The springtime sunlight has found them out, and it’s time for spring-cleaning once again.
In my part of the world spring comes quickly on the heels of Easter, a serendipitous convergence. It’s a natural time for beginning again, for new birth, for fresh perspectives, for chances to start over. The same Lord revels in all the new beginnings, heart and soil alike.
So I’m emptying the trash. Again. I’m finding that there is springtime beauty to be found not only in the blossoms but in the stacked trash bags as well.
Here’s hoping that you too treasure the beauty, and keep an eye on the trash, during this season of new beginnings.
Valerie Phillips is the associate director of the women’s residence hall at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she has ministered to collegiate women for more than 25 years.