April 12, 2013

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

In my book, April is not ‘the cruelest month’ but a glorious time

Cynthia DewesEnglish majors like Garrison Keillor and me are just crazy about April. Lots of English poetry has been written about it, as in “If April comes, can spring be far behind?” Geoffrey Chaucer even set his pilgrimage in that month in his Canterbury Tales.

T.S. Eliot, on the other hand, called it “the cruellest month” in his poem “The Wasteland.” But then, he was kind of a sourpuss anyway. And yes, he did spell the word “cruellest.” Go figure.

In April, we think of beginnings and newness in general. It’s that spring thing, with plants budding and blooming, and warm sunny days, and all those pleasures of nature. We plant vegetables and flowers and fertilize the lawn. If we’re really fired up, we may even clean the garage or deal with the compost pile.

We prepare for big events like graduations and weddings, which point to the future. Also looking to the future, we plan summer vacations. In former days, my husband and I would plan our vacations down to the last detail, figuring how much money we could afford to spend, how many historical or other interesting sights we could cram into our allotted time, and which relatives we were obliged to visit.

I’d plan the exact number of shorts and pajamas and swimsuits we could cram into one station wagon already loaded with eight people, several of whom squirmed constantly. Later on, it involved packing the latest issues of Mad magazine from which we’d take turns reading aloud as we drove along.

Finally, we graduated from sleeping wedged together in one tent to serious camping equipment. And once in a great while, thanks to my dad when he was along, we’d spend a night in a motel (oh, joy!). In any case, we looked forward to the vacation and summer.

If it weren’t for April, we’d probably be a pretty gloomy bunch. Imagine the year stretching ahead with only bare trees, cold weather and same old, same old routines to look forward to. People need some stimulation in life, some wake-up events to keep us alert. Even in climates without a change of season, we need perking up.

The seasons of the Church year are cleverly arranged to serve such needs.

About the time April appears, so does Easter, which also brings joy and optimism. The liturgical year moves ahead to Pentecost and the ordinary time when we work to make our Lenten change of heart a reality.

Beginnings morph into “continuings.” We water and weed our gardens, then harvest the produce they bring, and finally eat or freeze or can or arrange bouquets from the bounty. All in all, it’s a satisfying process that brings contentment and joy.

We also continue to harvest our Lenten change of heart by applying it to daily life. Maybe we’re more patient with people who are annoying, or we make an effort to help someone financially, or just listen to them vent when they need to.

Maybe we get out of our comfort zone by working directly with the poor in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, instead of just throwing money and fancy talk at the problem. And maybe, just maybe, we turn more to God for help rather than behaving as though we are in charge of the universe and responsible for controlling everything.

April is a glorious time to look ahead and anticipate culmination of whatever is good. That’s certainly far from being “cruel.”

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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