Sunday, April 19, 2015

Diary: Into Spring


In late autumn, contemplating winter, a heightened sense of the mortality of all living things strikes me. The corollary is also true: the appearance of spring reminds me of life's fecundity. In late March, at a wedding in the country, I heard the bridegroom voice aloud his desire to have children with his bride. These are our animal spirits, shared with our planetary cousins. Among humans, this urging now takes in every pairing - perhaps it always has, whether through "chemistry" or simply the love that extends across the generations. 

In his Thatcher-era political diary, Alan Clark sometimes interrupted his accounts of the goings-on of his fellow ministers to note a recurring desire to "start again," despite his expressed love for his wife. Leaving this in was of a piece with the frankness of the diary as a whole, but it pointed usefully to a propellant of our species that has its own imperatives, detached from reason and often from context. 

Americans are careless about birth control, I read. This is reflected in our rate of teenage pregnancies and a higher birth rate overall. Yes, I thought, that volatile combination of volition and fecundity. As a nation, we make no real provision for our carelessness, disregarding our demographic luck and making the aftermath as hard as possible. The Pro-Life movement is remarkably silent about doing much to help the children whose embryonic lives it sanctifies or the women it presses to carry them to full term. What about their raising?

Pope Francis, imperfect as he is, has proved to be emblematic of what we could think of as the Spirit of Spring, setting the dead quarrels aside to point to the obvious truths about our human condition. As an agrarian cult with a Dionysian god at its center, the Church has a superstitious, crops-may-fail attitude toward fecundity, but its instincts about life's preservation and cultivation - the Good Shepherd aspect of its godhead, reinforced by the mother goddess it worked in, with her own cult of forgiveness and intercession - are sound. Among those leading or proposing to lead us, this Spirit is otherwise absent. We are mostly in the grip of a wintry negligence, justifying its penury by citing its wars, its biases, and its books of accounts. In place of generosity, we get austerity.

Spring invites us to take life up again, not as a struggle, but as a productive outlet for our creative energies, so that we have something to harvest when inevitably the seasons change and life is again hemmed in. When the possibility of renewal that spring promises is cut off, those energies go elsewhere, usually with dire consequences. Here as elsewhere, renewal is too often perverted into fear and retribution, with whole communities tainted or blamed as "other." 

Spring makes me long for this to lift, and for humanity to return to its senses.