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I think spring is the worst season. I love how bleak winter is, the endless days of summer—and I challenge you to find any person who hates fall. Spring, on the other hand, is muddy, wet, teasing with its temperatures, rainy when I need sun. But this spring may be the best we ever get to see, and I’m considering amending my usual distaste; in 2021, spring is full of hope.
Maybe my feelings for spring stem from my chronically low expectations for it. E.E. Cummings wrote that spring “comes carefully out of Nowhere,” and that feels about right. I kind of forgot what warm weather feels like. This seems to happen to me every year. There’s momentum in seasons and moods, and after a while it’s easy to have confidence in that stasis. Perhaps looking back on spring, it’s easy to take the relief it brings for granted, and looking forward to it, it’s easy to downgrade the joy the season will bring; when you’re cold, it’s hard to imagine what it feels like to be warm. I’m perpetually sort of surprised, if grateful, when the warmth arrives, and that really does make it feel like spring comes out of Nowhere. The reason I don’t like spring, it seems, is that I can’t adequately anticipate what’s coming. This year, I’m determined to think differently.
I like to question people about how they’re feeling about the pandemic, and I ask them to place their bets as to when they think it’s going to end. Recent responses are pretty dismal. People are resigned; you can see it in that tiny sliver of eyes you get to glimpse between their masks and their hats. They’re dragging something with them, and they seem to have accepted reality as it is, in full confidence that things will never change. Some say next winter, some 2022, while others are convinced we’ll be stuck in it for years.
But if you ask me, I’m a little more bullish. I feel invigorated by the progress that is being made. The vaccines are incredible. Their existence is a feat of modern science that is absolutely taken for granted. It’s stunning that when faced with a pandemic, humanity managed to create an effective solution, test it, and begin distributing it before a year has passed. There are many timelines where we lingered with deadly COVID-19 for years—but we’ve been spared that fate. I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to give friends hugs again by next fall, that I’ll feel safe taking off my mask with those I know are vaccinated, and I’m quite certain that even though I’m (happily) last in line, I’ll have my shots before the summer is out. In this way, a little hope starts to sprout.
But it’s tempting to crush that hope, isn’t it? Tempting to wallow. Tempting to lean into the misery, make it a part of who we are right now. Some part of you is probably thinking I should be quoting T.S. Elliot instead of Cummings here, à la “April is the cruelest month.” We’ve all been burned before, and we’re cautious. There’s a desire to pull winter along with us into these coming days, to assume that they’ll get colder again, assume that variants will destroy all progress, assume that we’ll be stuck here forever.
I worry, sometimes, that the college will succumb to this mentality, and push to have the same strict precautions next semester, even though we’re on track to have campus fully vaccinated by the fall. Herd immunity is within sight. But I worry that we will spin our wheels in the pile of muck that is this year for longer than we have to, out of a sense of moral necessity that isn’t backed up by the evidence.
I sometimes worry that I am being too optimistic, that I need to lower my expectations, be more conservative, be ready for the worst. It’s a seductive way of thinking: relishing doubt so we aren’t consumed by it, crushing all hope using whatever justifications we can find so we aren’t fooled by a mirage. But this isn’t a mirage. We are clawing our way out of the darkness. Cummings again: “O sweet spontaneous / earth how often have / the / doting / fingers of / prurient philosophers pinched / and / poked / thee / ,has the naughty thumb / of science prodded / thy / beauty…thou answerest / them only with / spring.” I always loved that image of people poking the ground, measuring it, only to be answered in silence by the regrowth the earth offers up. We can ask and analyze, prod our ambitions and try to poke holes in our progress. But sometimes, I would hazard, it’s better to sit back and just let spring happen, and allow its feelings to overtake you if you can, instead of breaking them down into why you should believe this or that; sometimes it’s worth embracing the hope the season wants to bestow.
You may have forgotten what it’s like to be out of a pandemic, to walk outside of your dorm and feel warm, and you may have started to believe that the world will go on this way forever, cold and sheltered. It’s easy to be reticent, and bury the future so deep that you’re not sure if it’s there anymore. But this is a plea for hope. Because the world is changing. The ice is melting. Snowdrops are the first flowers of campus, and they’re here, beside the bookstore entrance to the campus center. There are Lenten Roses blooming across from Gummere, and Crocuses near the KINSC. If you examine any patch of managed soil on the grounds you’ll probably see Daffodils and Tulips poking up. If you look hard enough at the Nowhere, you can see some spring, carefully coming. Once it’s here, it might be worth an effort to shed a few layers of emotional armor alongside our coats, and try to be happy that, no matter what fear may whisper, petals and communities are beginning to open again.
Spring is like a perhaps hand
Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and
changing everything carefully
spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
and fro moving New and
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and
without breaking anything.
O sweet spontaneous
O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have
prurient philosophers pinched
,has the naughty thumb
of science prodded
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
to the incomparable
couch of death thy
them only with