As cliche as it sounds, I never noticed spring until the March I fell in love with Thomas. We had been dating for awhile, and I greatly admired him. But for reasons I won't delve into here, my heart was guarded. Then a bunch of us college kids took a trip to Big Bend for spring break. I was fasting at the time, eating just one meal a day. I wasn't sleeping well in the crowded tent on the hard ground with insufficient cover. Even so, I seemed to have boundless energy. I could hike all day, stay up late, tend the campfire and play games. I was in love and all the world seem to echo with my joy! The birds were singing; the flowers blooming; the sky was crisp and blue. How had I missed spring for 19 years?
Like much of the country, we had an unusually long winter here in Central Texas. A couple of weeks ago I was driving the kids to school on yet another cold, dark morning when it happened. I saw a tree in bloom, the first one of the season. My heart sped up and an involuntary smile came to my lips. The world seemed brighter and I felt mysteriously happier than I had 10 seconds before. Of course I had known spring was inevitable - but imagination does not compare to reality, at least not in the case of spring. Blooms anticipated cannot hold a candle to blooms smelt.
I find it curious that the penitential season of Lent falls in early spring - a season which I find the most joyful of all. Perhaps it would not seem so strange to the native people of Central Texas. I once read a book about Cabeza de Vaca's trek through Texas into Mexico. It appears that he spent a season with Indians who called February and March the "starving season." By early spring they had eaten whatever had been killed in fall hunts. They didn't cultivate crops, and the prickly pear would not bloom until late spring or early summer. Spring was a lean time.
Leanness is not always bad. Hunger can sharpen desire and clear the mind. This is the blessing of Lenten fasting. Disciples sated with Christmas feasting wrestle with their flesh, remember the poor and stir up their desire for God. We are like the trees called to waken while frost remains on the ground. Or like our native ancestors digging for bugs and lizards until the prickly pear blooms. Summer is coming; the Resurrection is certain. But it is not here yet, and we grow lean in the wait.
Desire makes me feel alive. Desire is one face of love.
My daughter is growing lean this spring. I spoke with her yesterday and she exulted in the fact. Peggy is in Kolkata toting buckets of wet laundry up and down stairs, walking miles each day, massaging and feeding the dying. She may be lean, but she is blossoming and that gives me more joy than any field of wildflowers or fragrant grove of plum trees.
My eldest son and his wife are entering a season of leanness as well. Soon they will be off to another land, far away from family or close friends, clinging to the call of God and the promise of a harvest to come.
My children are in the early spring of their lives. The most fruitful season of their life is still in the future, and much can happen between now and then. But I see the sap flowing. I see their desire, and my rejoices as it did the March I first fell in love.