For several decades I have faithfully planted a dozen or two Paperwhite Narcissus bulbs shortly after Thanksgiving, patiently awaiting the arrival of their white blossoms and heady fragrance. This was not a tradition I grew up with and I’m not sure what or who inspired me to begin it, but now it is as much of a ritual of the season as decorating a Christmas tree. Forcing bulbs trick spring flowering bulbs into blooming in the middle of winter, a process first practiced by Europeans in the 17th Century, beginning with blooms like hyacinths. Way back in 1682, Nehemiah Grew with the Royal Society (of Britain) was a pioneer in this forcing business as he figured out how to entice young flowers early by keeping plants warm.
A few years ago my dear friend Karen, a humble yet knowledgeable master gardener, gifted me my first Amaryllis, neatly planted in sod with only its green shoot protruding into the air. This Christmas of 2020 is our first Christmas without Karen. Yesterday my friend Liz dropped off a Christmas gift, a bulb whose only distinguishing feature was its green shoot. When she identified it as a species of Amaryllis I deeply breathed in the synchronicity of the moment. I had been thinking so much in the last few weeks about the two dear friends we lost this year. And now, as my Paperwhites slowly inch upward, I have the joy of awaiting the bloom of the Amaryllis as well. In this season, while we cannot and should not discount the grieving, sadness and pain we feel for so many different reasons, we need to find our own special reminders of joy and hope. We need both to carry on. These anticipated blooms are small treasures to help me do this.
One of my favorite songs I learned as a child, first on the recorder and soon after on the flute, was Simple Gifts. The Shaker Song is well known in many versions and formats – including one I love most by Aaron Copeland in Appalachian Spring as conducted by Leonard Bernstein. The lyrics celebrate the Shaker principles of simplicity and humility.
Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
I find myself humming this song often these days. And while my soul cannot ignore the sorrows of the day, nor should it, I wonder how we might mend some of the sad in this quest for joy?
Help Make it Better for someone else if you can
Each week we are supporting important causes financially, including GoFund efforts. This week is Oregon Food Bank, West Linn Food Pantry and Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. Next week will include Oregon Worker Relief Fund and Clackamas Women Services. We are shopping locally and supporting local businesses.
Be in the Moment of Now –not the moment that might have been
We all have the things that we wish might have been. I admittedly may have falsely imagined, even if I knew better, Mom participating in Christmas as she did once. I now hear her express sadness in her losses, even if she may be happy in a moment. Rather than decorate the tree or look at outdoor Christmas lights or help make cookies, she can hold an ornament in her hand and remark in its beauty or the memories it brings; she is delighted to eat the cookies. Being a realist is essential for me to find joy in the moment.
Look for Opportunities
Even if we could go out to live music and performances as we have during previous holiday seasons, not all of us would be able to go together. Online delights await us –yes, they are different –and carry opportunities to financially support the arts. Today we watched the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus Snowed In. (The Portland Gay Men’s Chorus is the 4th oldest gay men’s chorus in the U.S. and this year is their 40th anniversary.) What a treat! Several times I reminded Mom that the big snowstorm they referred to was a creative euphemism for the pandemic. Then I wisely simply let it go. Next week we will tune in to Broadway Rose’s Christmas My Way, and a Sing-a-long Messiah –who knows what other treasures await us.
Keep it Simple
Food, song and music, walks, nature, stories, meditative moments, friends and family (using Zoom, phone, cards and letters when needed). Being thankful every moment for all that I have. Watching the Paperwhites lengthen, flower, and being okay if they topple. Trading words with my adorable young neighbors. Knowing that one day I will be surprised by the bloom of an Amaryllis.
Remember and Celebrate the ones we miss
Kris and Karen join other spirits I will never forget. The joys we once shared together. For as long as I can remember.