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I’ve been traveling through a strange season for the past few years. It’s been heavy with snow and cold. In my struggle to keep stepping forward, I decided to fill my time by becoming a Certified Master Gardener. Even though my life has always involved gardening, I still lacked a vast amount of knowledge. And the more I learned, the more I saw how closely plants and seasons resemble the cycles of human life.
Some seeds literally cannot grow until they have waited through a period of cold, hoping for the spring. If you plant this type of seed in the spring, even in the most perfect of conditions, it will fail to germinate, rot into the soil, and disappear forever. It must undergo the pressure of freezing and thawing. It must be weighted under the silence of thick blankets of snow, left all alone. Then, and only then, can it grow to its full potential.
Spring has a way of coming without notice. It can be desperately cold forever and then an unexpected warm day brings early flowers pressing up for light. These perennials are my favorites! Even though many perennials are considered weeds, wild and of no use at all, I connect with them deeply. Their strength, resilience, grace, and beauty speak to me in a way few words can. Last fall, I began to notice whispers and signs, signaling to me that it was time to wake up, that spring was trying to come to my life again. It seemed that over and over a reoccurring theme of “again” was happening all around me.
Last October I was attending Hutchmoot for the second time and Walt Wangerin Jr. spoke about a lady from his church. She had passed away and the children in his congregation were angry! So one Sunday, he called them up front to tell them a story. His tale about a lily drew me in, just as it had the children, and when he reached the final lines the room was blanketed in silence. Those few moments seemed like an eternity. I felt a panicked choking back of tears until the applause erupted and helped me regain composure.
Winter doesn’t always lift as quickly or as easily as we would like. But sitting here, these months later, with spring bursting forth all around me, I can’t help but think back on Walt’s story. It’s okay to hate the darkness, because we have hope. As much as I dread the winter, without it spring would not be as glorious. In these seasons of freezing and thawing, of cold and silence, things are happening to prepare us, to make us ready, to give us strength to shake off the snow and stretch toward the light, again!
“Lily” –by Walt Wangerin, Jr.
Transcribed from his Hutchmoot 2015 address
[Used with permission.]
Way up in the north, where the north forest ends and the ice begins, all the way to the North Pole, right there, there lived three sisters. The oldest sister was called Bean Plant. She thought that she was fairly important—no, very important—in the world because she produced food. She produced food that other people could eat and satisfy themselves and get nutrition. “I am important!”
The second sister was named Marigold. Marigold said, “I am a knockout! The world needs beauty! I fulfill the world’s needs! Art is beauty, beauty is art.”
But their third sister was Lily, and Lily had almost nothing to recommend her. No blossoms, she was just a thick stem, vestigial leaves, and a silliness that drove her sisters crazy. She talked to the Sun!
“Oh, Lily! Sun doesn’t talk! Sun is a ball of heat!” Older sister: “Sun helps me make green beans. Sun serves me!”
“The Sun,” said Marigold, “shines on me, let’s everybody see my great beauty. Sun doesn’t talk.”
And Lily said, “Maybe not. Maybe so.”
Here’s how Lily talked to the Sun. The Sun would rise and sit upon the eastern horizon and its effulgence would say, “GOOD!” and Lily would say, “Morning!” And that’s how they talked together: “GOOD . . .” “. . . Morning!” And the Sun would become as high as it gets in the sky at noonday and the Sun would say “GOOD . . .” and Lily would say “Day!” And then the sun would sit on the western horizon and just before it went to bed it would say “GOOD . . .” and Lily never said “Bye,” but always “good Night” in order to see him the next morning. And so it went, day after day.
And the sisters put on a party. And everybody came: the squirrels came, the birds came, little mice, trees came, stones rolled up, everybody having fun. Until Lily came to the sisters and said, “There’s something wrong with the Sun!” And everybody in the party looked at her and the sisters said, “Don’t mind her. She’s so silly! She knows nothing about good work and prettiness.”
“No!” Lily said. “The Sun is getting lower and lower. He gets up later in the morning. He can hardly make it up in the sky, and he goes to bed really early in the evening! I think he’s dying!”
“Oh, Lily! Sun doesn’t die! And even if it did,” said Bean Plant, “look at me! I got all these beans now! Dried out, but enough for people to eat. I’m a worker, Lily! Don’t need the sun when you got me!”
And there was Marigold, same sort of a thing: “Well even if the Sun isn’t here to glorify my beauty, I’ll be the sun for everybody!”
But Lily was angry. Sun was lower and lower and the last time that it sat, now on the southern horizon, it said to Lily one word. It said one word that Lily would hold onto.
And now all the birds began to fly for the south, and mice went into their holes deep in the ground for the winter, and the leaves tore off the trees, and they were all saying, “The Killer is coming! The Killer is coming!” They said to the sisters, “Get out of here! The Killer kills by kissing!” and the whole place cleared out. The trees, no leaves, they just stood there, dark silhouettes against the horizon.
The Killer kills by kissing.
Bean Plant said, “It’s not fair! It’s not fair! I’ve worked all my life! I’ve done exactly what I could! I did what was required of me! I—it’s not—”
Lily said, “It’s—wait!” She said, “Bean Plant, I—”
“It’s not fair!” said Bean Plant. “It’s not—” and the Killer had killed her by kissing her. And there was Bean Plant, all alone in the field, shivering and dry and dead.
The Killer kills by kissing, and it doesn’t only go through the air!
Marigold said, “It’s not fair! I am so beautiful! Certain things like me ought to live forever. It’s not fair!” Here came the killer.
Lily said, “Wait! Wait, I have a word . . .”
“It’s not fair!” Marigold shoved her head into the ground, and even through the ground came the Killer, and the Killer kissed her and she was dead.
And then the Killer came for Lily, and she said, “I hate you! You took my sisters! I hate you!” With all of her heart, she screamed “I hate you!” and then allowed it—and Lily herself went into the ground and didn’t come out.
Come around Easter time, I can take you to that point, the northern most edge of the northernmost forest and I can show you something growing there as the sun comes up and up and up.
I will say, “Look at that white blossom. What do you see inside of it?”
And you will say, “Aw! A drop of water!”
And I say, “What do you think that water is?”
And you might say, “Well, I don’t know. A dew drop?”
I’d say, “No, that drop of water is a tear drop. Because this is how the Sun raises things. By kissing. The Sun kissed Lily under the ground and Lily grew. And there she is with that beautiful blossom.
“And the word, the word that the Sun gave her, the word of hope that allowed her to hate the Killer, that word was:
“. . . Again, again, again, again. Again.”