On the trail: the grass survives, again.

The grass survived.

The snow has melted, finally, and you can once again run, walk or hike through the grass. After months under a foot or more of snow, the grass is still green, and alive, mostly.

How does grass survive the freezing cold, the darkness, buried under the snow?Humans can not survive being buried in an avalanche for more than a few minutes. Yet grass survives the cold, the weight, the desiccation. How do its cells resist rupturing, imploding and becoming a protoplasmic organic slime? How do its fragile roots maintain their grasp on a soil which has itself frozen and is no longer nurturing.

This week marks the beginning of the holiday of Passover, commemorating the exodus of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The holiday has many themes, revisited each year by parents and children and grandparents and grandchildren in a performance art like meal called the ‘seder’ where the story of the exodus is retold, using food as symbolic props.

But one idea often gets lost in all the preparation and the re-telling. The name of the holiday, Passover in English and ‘Pesach’ (pronounced peh-sakh) in hebrew, conveys a most basic but critical thematic idea. The name of the holiday references God’s sending an angel to visit death upon the first born males in pharonic Egypt as a punishment. God instructed the angel of death to spare the Jewish children. The name, then, focuses on a celebration of survival and an acknowledgement of God as both the taker and sustainer of life in a world filled with Divine intervention in the matters of mankind.

It is by design that Passover always occurs near beginning of springtime, a period of rebirth. And the blades of grass are the first signs of that renewal. They persist through a winter that really should have killed them. But at winter’s end the grasses stand up with no flowery announcement of their arrival. Unannounced and unadorned, they unfurl themselves and reach for the warmth of the nourishing sun.

The springtime holiday of Passover marks not only re-birth but also the birth of a nation that survived its own long winter of oppression, deprivation and servitude. Not every blade of grass survives the winter and neither did every member of the nation survive to leave Egypt 3,000 or so years ago. Which is why seeing the grass again in the springtime is the perfect time to truly celebrate life.

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Springtime in the Winter, But No Promises

springshootsonwinterdayI passed right by them while crossing through a lightly wooded park on New Year’s day. The ground was frozen, the average temperature 28 F. Last spring’s fallen leaves still covered much of the hard earth, a threadbare blanket at best. And so it took me a moment to realize what I had just seen on this day early in Winter: Hundreds of green shoots jutting just above the cold dirt and thin layer of brittle dry leaves. They spread over an area almost a dozen feet in length

What were these nascent early risers?  Too early for me to tell, but this patch presaged a patch of robust wild plants. I doubled back when the incongruity of springtime growth on the first of January  dawned upon me. Bent over to get a closer look I thought about how nice this area would look in a few months time covered with dense vegetation.shootsandleaves

Earlier in the day I had visited a patient in a nursing home, a woman confined to bed, unable to walk due to advanced multiple sclerosis. Her room was nice enough with pictures of her family, holiday cards hanging and she was cheerful, happy to greet a new visitor. She had walked, like me, but not for more than two decades, yet she still smiled and offered warmth to a stranger.

Her ability to warmly embrace the moment regardless of her own physical limitations reminded me of another person I once visited in the hospital, a father who became a paraplegic after a car accident. Without the use of his arm or legs he cherished any function he could still perform on his own, such as breathing. A devout and learned man, he quoted to me, actually admonished me, with an interpretation of a sentence from the Book of Psalms: For every breath, I praise God.

Cherish what you perceive as inconsequential.

As I looked at the shoots I started to question my own assumptions, that saplings always grow into strapping trees, that young shoots always grow into verdant plants, that life follows an upward trajectory. Perhaps these unlucky shoots poked out too early and well, that’s it for them.  Their moment in the sunlight was their first and last stand. Indeed within four days they were once again covered by snow. Will they survive until Springtime?0105141541

Breathing hard, feeling sore in my legs, I had been running past the new shoots when I first spied them and I admit, I was happy for an excuse to stop running and rest. Yet I keep wondering, when will I finally be able to run this route effortlessly, without even wanting to stop, with nary a hint of tiredness in my body? Am I not destined to improve?

My answer was in front of me.

No guarantees. No promises.

Perhaps each footstep today is its own triumph to be celebrated while on the journey toward ‘better’.  I do not preach defeatism. Indeed, “better” is the currency of mankind: farther for a hiker, faster for a runner, higher for a climber.

Rather I offer that one should learn to revel even in the seemingly mundane moments along the way. One’s ultimate goal may or may not be reached.  But either way, at least the journey itself will bring joy.