(Note: I wrote this column in 2015, while living in Las Vegas of All Places.)
For me, two of the loveliest words in the English language are “Life persists.”
I happened on them years ago as a college freshman, sitting in the library on a gorgeous spring day, bored spitless, working on a history paper. I don’t recall what I was researching. Funny, isn’t it, the things we find while looking for something else?
Out of nowhere, those two words came dancing off the page in a quote by Gandhi from his essay “On God”: “In the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists.”
Suddenly I wasn’t bored any more. I reread those words a dozen times. Then I closed the book and left the library. Outside in dazzling sunshine, I kicked off my Weejuns and danced barefoot across a spring-green lawn back to the dorm to call my granddad.
A man of many talents, and the father of 12 children, he’d been a baker, a shoe salesman, a restaurateur and a sometime Baptist preacher, who, as my grandmother liked to say, “worked for the Lord when he couldn’t find a paying job.”
Growing up, I loved to talk with him about what he called “the things of God.” I was pretty sure the Gandhi quote fit that category, and I couldn’t wait to hear what he’d think of it. He was a mite hard of hearing, so I had to repeat it a few times, but once he got it, he laughed.
“All I can say to that,” he said, “is amen and amen and amen!”
We talked for a while about other things, my schooling, his checker playing, the weather. I told him how glad I was, after a long winter, to finally see spring and especially to find that quote.
“Why is that?” he asked.
I was feeling all full of myself, a big college freshman, so I said, “Well, spring is a sure sign that, like the quote says, life persists. And it just makes me happy.”
He chuckled again, the way you might laugh at a slow-witted dog that finally learns to sit up and beg for a bone.
Then, in his lovely baritone preacher’s voice, he recited just for me his favorite “springtime” verse, words from the prophet Isaiah: “The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose … even with joy and singing.”
My granddad. I wish you could’ve known him.
I told you all that to tell you this. I love spring. And this year, I was especially hungry to see it. Maybe you were, too.
Flying home last weekend to Las Vegas, after 10 days in California, I looked down on hills that were so green I could almost taste them. Nearing Vegas, the green turned a drab desert brown. We landed after sunset, and the only green to be seen was neon.
But the next morning, to my surprise, I awoke to find signs of spring all over my yard. In my absence, all sorts of things had sprouted and leafed and budded and bloomed. I’d tell you their names, but I’m sorry, I don’t know them. I just call them Lucy or Ethel or Fred.
Three days later, my husband and I drove to Scottsdale, Ariz., to see the Giants play the A’s in spring training. The drive across the desert was flat-out spectacular, a profusion of wildflowers and blooming cactus. I could almost hear my granddad laughing, “The desert shall rejoice.”
Sometimes we need to be reminded that we’re still alive.
After my first husband died, a friend sent me a card that made me want to kick off my shoes and dance barefoot on the grass. It read, “Just when you think you will never smile again, life comes back.”
Life persists, and so do we, in the green of spring and the dead of winter; in the birth of a child and the passing of a loved one; in the words and deeds we leave behind and in the hearts of those who will remember us.
Spring reminds us that life persists and we’re alive forever.
Amen and amen and amen.
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