Monday, January 25, 2010

First Green

"Nothing Gold Can Stay" by the American poet Robert Frost is one of my favorite poems. I return to it periodically:

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower,
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief.
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

For the 18 years that these words have been part of my soul, this poem has epitomized nostalgia and a desperate longing for the past. I am Gatsby-esque in my longing for the past: because I fall in love with so ardently with whatever phase of life I am in, changing and moving forward---even to further delights and beauties---always entails poignancy for me. I am the narrator in Trace Adkin's country song: "You're gonna miss this/You're gonna want this back/You're gonna wish these days/Hadn't gone by so fast." {Aside: does this make me a line-dancing Fitzgerald character? Now that's a scary thought}. I constantly look backward with sentimentality, and only through experience have I learned how important it is to put most of my focus on the present. I realized long ago how I could very easily live my life in constant sadness at all the precious moments that slip away each second that I will want to relive and relive; so I had to decide that I would live my life with the mission to trust that happiness and magic always awaits me if I work to create it.

As I was walking with Kate this past Saturday, however, we were looking at the light on the trees and I recited this poem to her down Meadows Parkway. As we talked, I suddenly had an epiphany: what if this poem is not a poem of fatal longing at all and is instead a message of hope?

Perhaps because we are soon to enter spring, I realized: even though nothing gold can stay, the first line of Frost's poem promises us that "nature's first green is gold." Nature constantly has a first green, every year. Nature is remade new, a new green, a new treasure...even when what we have loved has perhaps run its course, it is only a matter of time before that love has the opporunity for a re-creation. The Universe promises us the return of love and happiness and Life with the turn of the seasons. "Dawn goes down to day" but then the cycle of the Earth assures us of constant new dawns and break of light, if only we are patient enough to wait.

There may be no better personal example of the reward of patience and the promise of "first green" than the time we are able to spend, even in these late years, with my Grandpa Yoder. A recounting of the particulars of the past is not as important here as it is for my readers to realize that, for most of my life, circumstances were such that quality time with my mom's dad was quite rare. There really never was a chance for the meeting of our minds, or a chance to enjoy the humdrum of daily life together. I think truly beautiful relationships consist of being able to eat a peanut butter and honey sandwich together and watch the sky, or sip hot cocoa and watch TV together, or have any other time together without formality or a holiday to guide it. Some years ago, I thought that a chance to spend a normal, no frills, have-your-jeans-on day with him would pass me by, that I might never see the real him. It bothers me when I think I don't know someone on an authentic level whom I would like to know.

Yet over the past couple of years some significant changes happened in Grandpa Yoder's life, and as seasons change, we have been given a miraculous springtime in our relationship. On maternity leave with Kate after she was first born, I started going with my mom and my aunt and cousins to his house for bi-weekly visits. For the first time, we had some real conversations, and he listened and gave advice as I pondered continuing with my career. Instead of going to the barber, he had my mom cut his hair outside as we overlooked the water. We brought lunches and had picnics on the family room floor. Katie took her second series of steps in his house. I discovered that he likes an oreo cookie everyday with lunch. I discovered an old Bible from one of my Amish ancestors who lived in 1905 upstairs. I realized that who I thought he was, he may have well been... but that he, at this older point in his life, harkens back to a childhood that was more about simplicity and family.

We went to visit Grandpa Yoder today. The girls---Katie and Violet---toddled around and looked at the mallard ducks on the dock and cavorted. Katie will only know one version---this one---of her great-grandfather, and I want that. Her heart is merry and light, and he doesn't mind that she likes to do somersaults on his bed (which is in the family room now), and I see him smile at the bustle and the vitality. I grew up thinking that we had to be as quiet as mice in that house---but that was never true from his perspective. He seems to like the happy family dynamic around him, the spills and giggles, the kisses and jokes. I never knew...but at 30 I now know, and what a gift to have in my life before he goes. When he leaves us, I now know that I will forget most of the rest, and I will choose to remember only this time, a time when we were miraculously given a first green before it was too late.

Do we often receive from Life the gift of a first green with someone who is important to us? Are the opportunities there, and we simply miss them because we are either think that person hasn't changed or because we are unwilling to change ourselves? Must we embrace the grief of a fallen idol (represented by Eden in the poem) in order to meet that person as he really is? And what of the role of forgiveness? Is forgiveness really a formal pardoning, or is it actually the ability to accept Life as it comes, to apprehend a moment as just a single moment that may be bad or good, and to accept that our human nature may render us in struggle with one another from time to time?

Questions for a Monday night.

Now to the frivolous: almost time for....The Bachelor! (Guilty, guilty, guilty pleasure alert).