Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Mulberry Tree and Me


“Oh a sleeping drunkard up in Central Park
And a lion hunter in the jungle dark
And a Chinese dentist
And a British Queen
All fit together in the same machine
Nice, nice, very nice, so many different people in the same device”

Kurt Vonnegut – “Cat’s Cradle” (1963)

It’s Saturday morning here in Emporia, Kansas. In keeping with this winter’s trends it’s cold today, opposed to yesterday’s warmth. We’re told that early next week it may get up to eighty for a couple of days, then revert back to wintery chill.

When we go outside Nancy ferrets around in the flower beds for signs of life. There are glimmers of hope. Some of her crocuses and tulips are already breaking through the winter ground.

As Nancy digs I just observe. One of the things that’s become apparent to me is the wariness of the flowers as they poke through the earth. They make their way about two or three inches above ground, and then stop. The weather forecasters are predicting some warm days, but the crocuses and tulips seem know there’s some winter left. They’re not taking any chances.

While I know spring is coming, I’m still somewhat perplexed. Is it coming sooner or is it coming later? One day I get signs of great encouragement as warm breezes come out of the south. The next, winds from the north howl through the bare branches of the Mulberry tree outside my office window. This state of affairs seems to confuse the tree as much as it does me. Yesterday there were hints of buds. Today they seem to have retreated. While he (it’s a fruitless male Mulberry) lurches back and forth between the two seasons, I do much the same. We're kindred spirits, partners in perplexity.

The headlines of the day seem to be firmly entrenched in winter. They have been for some time. It’s been a long, long winter. A while ago, before dawn, I went outside, fed one of the stray cats in our neighborhood, and picked up this morning’s edition of the Kansas City Star. The headlines said it all. “Middle –class quicksand.” “$1.9 million allegedly looted from bank.” “Buying power continues to shrink.” “A bloom in population, an anchor in poverty.” “Questions raised about senator’s charity.” “U.S. anthrax victim’s condition deteriorates.” “Turmoil builds in Philippines.” “Hostage in Nigeria pleads for freedom.” Saudi oil facility saved when guards foil suicide bombing.” “In Baghdad streets, an erosion of trust.” “Man gets ten years in child porn case.”

There are some very occasional snippets of good news scattered around, like seed scattered for hungry birds. They’re difficult to find, but if one digs they can be found. One headline in the Metropolitan section read “One sweet day at a time.” Another read “Hearts respond to story on teenager.” Another read “School co-workers divvy up lottery win.” I suspect there are just enough there to keep us hoping for some sort of man-made spring. The publishers are keenly aware that man can’t live by the bread of bad news alone, hence the teasers inserted to keep us coming back. It makes me now wonder if it wouldn’t have been better for me to have just rolled the Star up in a ball, taken it over to the pond at C of E Park, and thrown it in to feed the carp.

The world is looking every bit as confused as my partner outside the window and I are right now. Which is it? Is it winter or is it spring? Are violence, extortion, embezzlement, murder, pornography, political upheaval, intrigue, greed, gluttony, hate, deception, depravity, slander, and wickedness just par for the course, no more than normal parts of another season of the year, some integral, inescapable part of the on-going human ritual, something not even the best of us can escape? After all, didn’t David have Bathsheba? Didn’t Isaiah have Uzziah before he could see the light? Didn’t the same Solomon who gave us the Proverbs, with their elevated wisdom, also give us Ecclesiastes, with its stark view of the human condition? Wasn’t the same Solomon who said, “For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies? Nothing you desire can be compared with it” also say “For the wise person sees, while the fool is blind. Yet I saw that wise and foolish people share the same fate.”

As I look out my window I see the branches of the Mulberry tree flailing in the winter wind. Winter is still here. There’s nothing I can do to fix that. I can’t change the seasons. They’re not mine to manipulate. There’s an Unseen Hand that guides all of that.

In the midst of this confusion, however, I do know that spring will indeed come again, as it always has. Winter will give way. The crocuses and the tulips will bloom. The leaves of the Mulberry will come alive and flourish. And so too will this winter time of human history pass. There is good news on the horizon, not as far away as it seems to me now. The same Unseen Hand that guides the flowers and the trees is guiding history to a just conclusion. Thankfully, I cannot manipulate things to make that day come any more than I can manipulate the wind and the weather. As Jesus said to the questioning apostles, “The Father sets those dates, and they are not for you to know.”

So, in this winter of discontent I find comfort in the knowledge that God’s spring will come, that His truth will prevail. The change of seasons has been promised and it’s been foreshadowed in the change of our earthly seasons. That’s the lesson and the promise of the crocuses, the tulips, and the Mulberry tree. As surely as they spring back to life each year, He will also return one day and reconcile everything to Himself. When He does it will be on His terms. As the poet has said, He is coming again and His truth is coming with Him:

“Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that it passes through,
He unleashed His power at an unknown hour that no one knew.
How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride?
Will I ever learn?
That there’ll be no peace, that the wars won’t cease
Until He returns”


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Kurt Vonnegut

2 comments:

Paul M. Kingery said...

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Thanks,

Paul M. Kingery, PhD, MPH

mary ann said...

Sometimes, I'm glad to be in Phoenix where my flowers have no idea they're supposed to excersize caution in sprouting...