Thursday, May 15, 2008

Simple Lessons



No flowers mean happiness to me more than peonies. I love the way they bob on their stalks and how their huge, lacy-round blossoms fill a room with an almost overpowering sweetness. We have several bushes all over the yard that bloom at different times depending on their sun exposure, so we have plenty to cut over the period of a few weeks. These are this season's first.

We have a lovely spring day ahead before more rain arrives tonight. (I read yesterday that the mid-Atlantic region is now officially no longer in drought.) My job for the day will be to plant two new evergreens, accent trees at either end of the front porch, to replace arborvitae which have become blowzy and ragged with age. The new trees are called Himalayan cedars. They're gray, with a graceful "weeping" habit, and are not supposed to grow taller than 25 feet. They'll add a beautiful accent to the front. Then I go to a rheumatologist, who most likely will send me for more blood tests to tell us exactly which rheumatic autoimmune thingy I'm dealing with. That'll be fine with me as long as he gives me something non-steroidal to deaden the pain in my elbows.

I do prattle on about my so-important projects and the aches and pains I'm dealing with. And as I do so, my thoughts, unbidden, compare my own situation with that of literally millions elsewhere. We mourn the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives in China because of an earthquake, and of millions--millions-- of Burmese as a result of a typhoon whose effects are multiplied by endemic poverty and the petty political jealousy of their government. The people of Baghdad, also in their staggering millions, have not known a day without devasation for more than five years; they are grateful for a single day when they can simply take their children to a park, or eat some ice cream, without being murderously accosted or bombed. And these are just the things we hear about on a daily basis. We forget about the starving, terrorized Darfurians, and the East Congolese who live in a land of astonishing beauty populated by random armies of homicidal thugs. The more we reflect, the longer the list becomes.

Despite, or actually because of, my Peace Corps bona fides, I'm no bleeding heart and I understand my powerlessness to do anything directly to improve the lot of my fellow earth-travelers. But the least I can do is stay humble about my own charmed life, and if I think about the random luck that put me where I am rather than where the majority of my fellows find themselves, that's easy to do.

Majoring in French never gave me any practical tools for making a living, but what it does give me, daily, are gifts that inform my life and enrich it immeasurably. One of those gifts is Voltaire, who in his story Candide invented one unthinkable calamity after another to test the sweet optimism of his hero. After seeing the ugliness of the world and the people who cause it, Candide learns life's great lesson: you can find peace if you simply cultivate your own garden. I will now do just that.

9 comments:

Nan said...

Sigh of sadness as your summary of world events leaves me overwhelmed. Sigh of gratitude for the gorgeous peonies you shared and the simple moment of beauty they convey. Hope your Dr. appt. goes okay.

Ralph said...

Sorry to have made you sad, Nan, didn't mean to. Just stay grateful for the flowers and cultivate your garden....

Zoey & Me said...

Nicely put. . . now did I read about a plant named Himalayan? Any chance you could put up a picture of this tree or bush or plant? Zoey would love it. Great post, thanks and good luck with your doctor.

Ralph said...

Thanks, Z&M. I won't have much reason to post a picture of the trees, but email me from my profile and I'll send one. Would love to show Zooey a picture of something from where she's from!

Kat said...

Ralph,
These are beautiful and make me envious for your summer stirrings. I crave colors for my world.

Jenny said...

A French major? Moi, aussi! And Candide was a favorite of mine. Funny how many connections I find with you when I read your blog! My skills aren't what they once were since I have rarely needed to speak it since graduation. I did teach a little years ago, but it was only the basics and we pretty much stayed in the present tense.

We're packing up and the move is set for the end of the month. Au Canada!

Anonymous said...

Here is Indiana, peonies reign supreme. It is our "state flower" and every yard has at least one peony bush. However, here in Hoosierdom, they are called "pineys" by the old folks. They look at you in puzzlement if you pronounce them with three syllables. lol Thanks for the beautiful photo and the great Patsy Cline tune. Hope all goes well with your doctor appointment.
Rita

Ralph said...

Hi, Rita. "Pineys." I like that. Here, it's a toss-up between "PEE-a-nees" and "Pee-OH-nees," but all the syllables remain. I lean towards the latter because that's what my mother called them. They were her favorite flower. When they grow in a mass as you describe there in Indiana the scent can be almost overpowering.

Ralph said...

Mais oui, Jenny! And like I said, while knowledge of French did nothing of the bottom line, it enriches my life in uncounted ways, from giving me a deeper understanding of English to all the French cultural gifts.

I have to admit that "Candide" came into much sharper focus for me once I was introduced to the sublime Leonard Bernstein show.