15 May 2009



They came in late this spring. Perhaps it had to do with the cold weather we had until a couple of weeks ago. Actually, we had a heat wave for the last weekend in April; then, the weather turned cold again until the other day.

Or maybe the lilacs are appearing only now because we've had so much rain this spring. Not being much of a gardener or horticulturalist, I can't even give an educated guess.

But at least they've arrived, and I picked up a bunch from a store near me. I was tempted to buy them from a sidewalk display I saw as Bruce and I were walking up Prince Street in SoHo. There, the blooms cost ten dollars a bunch. At the greengrocer that sells flowers on Broadway near Steinway Street in Astoria, a like group of branches with clusters of light purple petals cascading from them cost half as much as they did in Manhattan. I'm glad I waited until I got to off the subway in my neighborhood before opening my purse again!

Lilacs are one of the few things in this world for which I don't mind paying more than I should. You might think that's frivolous, particularly for cut flowers that won't last more than a week--or two, if I'm lucky and careful.

So why are they my favorite flowers, you ask? Well, there's the color, which is the most exquisite shade of the hue I like best because it's feminine in the most complex possible way: It's translucent. I mean that in the old sense of the word: It moves from one kind of light to another. I can see, feel and smell the steely grayish-indigo of a late-afternoon, late-winter sky coaxed open by rays of sun that almost feel too strong because they are the first of the season, having come without warning.

In other words, the color of the lilac reflects the vulnerability that underlies the strength of one who survives. And the aroma of those flowers conveys the feeling of that color.

You probably know the opening of The Waste Land: "April is the cruellest month/Breeding lilacs out of the dead land." The promise of spring, which is the first and sometimes only hope of this world, is wrested from the death-grip of winter. From there, we--I--have no choice but to nurture that first or most palpable birth of the season. Fortunately, I would not want to do anyting else, and I believe there are other people who feel the same way.

It is the only first step I, or anyone, can take if we want to follow the other steps toward the conclusion of The Waste Land: the conclusion I seek. Here it is: "Shantih. Shantih. Shantih."