By Mary Petersen
Signal Staff Writer
It’s Spring! When nature revives after the cold winter months. Trees blossom, daffodils shoot up to surprise us and birds chirp as they prepare nests. It’s a time of renewal, rebirth, and reinvigoration. So why doesn’t it feel that way?
This year lacks the cheerfulness and optimism of a traditional spring awakening. A melancholic pall hangs over this season with the exhausting ordeal of the pandemic and now the troubling war in Ukraine.
In the midst of this, can we muster the motivation for spring cleaning, gardening or taking a trip? When the time changes, we lament that lost hour until we gain it back in October?
Sociologist Corey Keyes describes our reaction to the current set of circumstances as the feeling of “languishing.” He describes languishing as a sense of stagnation, sluggishness or dwindling motivation. It’s a feeling of muddling through at half-capacity. Hardly the uplifting rejuvenation associated with spring.
A century ago, T. S. Eliot utilized spring as a metaphor for hopelessness in his epic poem “The Wasteland.”
Unlike ancient times, when spring was honored with rituals performed to ensure prosperity, crop growth and fertility, in his poem Eliot proclaims that April is the cruelest month.
Spring signifies coming out of darkness and brings hope of new life, but in “The Wasteland,” nothing can be crueler since hope only leads to disappointment. April is most cruel by luring us with possibilities that can no longer be realized.
Granted, the poem was written just four years after WWI with anguish at the loss of moral values. Disillusioned, Eliot depicted the ills of the world: fractured relationships, loss of faith in humanity, alienation, spiritual emptiness. His rebuke of “April” was an expression of his despair, but his feelings may resonate in today’s world. Despite describing a futile modern existence, Eliot ends the poem with the possibility of hope.
In the last lines, he suggests that wholeness can be achieved by embodying the wisdom inherent in three Sanskrit words which translate to “give, have compassion, and show self-control.” This is as good advice as any to restore fertility to the barren land.
It is not a novel idea that giving in service of others brings “Hope is the gratification and peace of mind. Compassion restores fractured relationships and kindles empathy for the plight of others. Exercising inner restraint and self-awareness in our words and actions connects us to a larger purpose and never stops.
Perhaps a helpful metaphor this spring, to counter barren hopelessness, is the songbird that has endured isolating winters and fierce storms. Emily Dickinson writes in her poem, “Hope is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul/And sings the tune without the words/and never stops at all.”
Practicing gratitude, inward reflection and service to others resurrects hope, and hope allows an awakening from emptiness and disillusionment. The seeds of resilience and empowerment that we thought were buried were actually planted and now burst forth. We find a way out of the darkness and embrace the joy and beauty associated with spring.
Mary Petersen is a retired COC English instructor, a 30-year SCV resident and two-time breast cancer survivor.