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Can't Hold Back the Spring

January 25, 2018 by

Giverny in Springtime by Claude Monet
Giverny in Springtime by Claude Monet

...you can never hold back spring
even though you’ve lost your way
the world is dreaming
dreaming of spring…

—Tom Waits

Weakly I croak a ballad of optimism in a gruff duet with the passing snow plow as it grates the asphalt. I’m accompanied by the asthmatic gasps of my coffee maker and the growls of the wakened dog who wants to chase that plow. A horde of frostbitten specters shimmy across the window screens. The forecast calls for wind chills of minus zero throughout the weekend.

Looking into the pre-dawn dark I wonder: is there triumph to be had over such grisliness? Give me a reason to get up, an argument for hope.

Thoreau found courage in Symplocarpus foetidus, known as skunk cabbage in my neighborhood. It’s a stinking, swamp-growing, ugly little leaf. After all, the Latin name means “fetid.”

If you are afflicted with melancholy at this season, go to the swamp and see the brave spears of skunk-cabbage buds already advanced toward a new year. Their gravestones are not bespoken yet. Is it the winter of their discontent? Do they seem to have lain down to die, despairing of skunk-cabbagedom? “Up and at ’em,” “Give it to ’em,” “Excelsior,” “Put it through,” – these are their mottos.
Mortal human creatures must take a little respite in this fall of the year; their spirits do flag a little. There is a little questioning of destiny, and thinking to go like cowards to where the “weary shall be at rest.” But not so with the skunk-cabbage. Are these false prophets? Is it a lie or a vain boast underneath the skunk-cabbage bud, pushing it upward and lifting the dead leaves with it? They rest with spears advanced; they rest to shoot!
See those green cabbage buds lifting the dry leaves in that watery and muddy place. There is no can’t nor cant to them. They see over the brow of winter’s hill. They see another summer ahead.

Yeah, don’t add it to the coleslaw – but Thoreau believed there was strength to be found in ecological ugliness and melancholy. All well and good. But what about people – those unavoidable personalities I’ll meet today, with their nasty little flaws?

On that, I increasingly value the insights of Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. I recently reread his book Man’s Search for Meaning. He’d been through hell, yet still saw potential in every person.

He took inspiration from Goethe who said, “When we treat man as he is we make him worse than he is. When we treat him as if he already was what he potentially could be we make him what he should be.”

We should view our fellow human beings with hope; denying the existence of this spark only compounds their frustration.

When we presuppose that this spark of meaning lies in even the most problematic of souls, it elicits that potential from the person and makes him capable of what he should become. Frankl asserted that we should view our fellow human beings with hope; denying the existence of this spark only compounds their frustration. To value and believe in each person we meet is to have hope for every soul.

Jesus did that. He spoke of leaving the ninety-nine saved sheep to recover the rebellious runaway lamb. He spoke of not judging others, lest we be judged by the same measure.

It’s easy to be around folks who don’t make the recurring cast of characters in the New Testament. You don’t hear much about Jesus on a Saturday night at a trendy restaurant with all those high energy, fun people.

Instead Jesus reminds us that he came for the sick. He was a physician. Drawing in the dirt with his finger, he saw the promise hidden beneath the dirtiest of exteriors. Never affirming or sanctioning their fallen nature, yet massaging their eyes, freeing those he encountered from blindness, helping them to look redemption right in the eye, to see the light.

I flip on the lights to get to my coffee as an icy rain pelts the window.

We never have the right to despair. There’s much hopeful work to be done. And no one can ever hold back the spring.

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About the author

man drawing on a screen

Jason Landsel

Jason lives in upstate New York at the Woodcrest Bruderhof.

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