A lesson in lilacs

The snow kept falling on the bony lilac branches by the kitchen door. While the lawn table grew a foot-high frosting, snow bent the branches into submission, sealing their tips to the ground.

First I thought of "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." But that was a poem of mourning, Walt Whitman's elegy for Abraham Lincoln, offering the passing coffin a sprig of lilac, "every leaf a miracle."

Then I thought of the African- American church service I had just attended in another wintry place. After the sermon, a young singer near the front got the whole congregation pealing: "We fall down - but we get up!" (The music was going down and triumphantly up, too.)

"We fall down - but we get up!" over and over irresistibly. And that became, for me, the song of our lilacs. They did not stay down, fixed to the icy earth. As the snow disappeared, they got up. They were not broken by their burden.

I took a few snapshots, missing our bygone home-movie camera with the stop-action button to make a flower opening speed before your eyes.

One day the branches were abjectly horizontal - the next, rising, rising ... the shrunken sleeves of snow rising with them ..., the skeleton straightening, edged with sun. They would bloom in the dooryard again.

Shakespeare found "tongues in trees." Would you buy lessons in lilacs?

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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