I have taken up Morris dancing. Imagine that, the French Canadian guy who never got tired of sharing the old line with his so very Irish wife that the main thing uniting he French and Irish was their mutual hatred of the English, learning that most English of traditions. I’m still unbelievably terrible at it.
The season starts on May Day, and on May Eve I will be spending the evening and through the night with my team, getting kit ready, preparing to meet the dawn, and probably celebrating the impending arrival of spring a bit too much.
Fifty years ago, on May Eve 1963, a family in Boston welcomed an unexpected baby girl. She came to them a year after they had lost her infant brother to SIDS. Her sister later called her their “tiny miracle”. She was the whole family’s baby. Her sisters even got in on the act and managed to get her named after a Beach Boys song.
Thirty one years ago, on May Eve in 1982, that girl was a freshman at Framingham State. Some of her friends had convinced her that spending a weekend at a retreat out someplace called Shutesbury with a bunch of people from UMass was a good way to finish recovering from pneumonia. A bunch of my friends had convinced me a retreat was a good antidote from the burnout caused by both working and studying full time. We were the only ones dumb enough to have three-season sleeping bags for an indoor overnight, so we gravitated out away from the others in order to avoid overheating. Well, that was the theory, anyway.
This May Eve, I will again be gathered with a group of new and unexpected friends, less than five miles from the place we fell for each other. Totally unplanned, but our life together was driven by that kind of serendipity.
Consider the spontaneous housewarming party that happened fifteen years ago when a May Fair at the Renaissance Center down the street from us was rained out and everyone who was going to exhibit and perform there ended up at our house instead. Close to a hundred unexpected guests, but it was like the loaves and fishes, food magically arrived and everybody was fed and happy. Three teams of Morris and Garland dancers danced on our driveway,
This May Eve I will assemble my bell pads, with thirty-two bells from the standard team supply, and eight bells from her Christmas craft supply stash, one at the head of each row. While I’m putting them together I’ll be thinking of her favorite Christmas special from when the kids were growing up, ‘The Bells of Fraggle Rock’. It revolves around a festival the Fraggles have at the Winter Solstice, where some of them dance in a big strange looking Weeba Beast costume while the other Fraggles ring their bells to keep the rock moving. Seems appropriate, even if out of season.
Tonight we’ll drink a toast or two or three to the possibilities of May Eve, this magical season, and the wonderful, improbable woman who made my life.
In the morning, I’ll join the team and dance the sun up. I won’t do it well, but I will do it with intention. With every step I will drive some of that grief into the ground, not because it is some bad thing, but because it is the byproduct of thirty years of joy and laughter and love, and that makes it a rich and fertile thing. With every leap I will open myself up to the possibilities of new growth, fed by that rich past, and watered by those tears.
Every living thing on this earth is made of the recycled parts of older, long gone things. The oxygen we breathe, the carbon that makes life possible, the very calcium in our bones were all formed in long dead stars, and blasted out into empty space when those suns exploded.
All life is a beautiful, transient thing. We nurture it as best we can for as long as we can, but eventually everything has it’s day. When a flower dies it is up to us whether to try to keep a dried husk around to remind us of what it once was, or return it back into the soil to make new things. This year I am composting my grief, plowing it back under. I will water it with my tears and wait to see what grows, hopeful that if I keep at it long enough, eventually something new and beautiful will grow again.
Indeed, some new things already have started to bloom. So tomorrow, I will think of the smiles of her grandchildren, and their eyes so much like hers. And when I reach for that new May sky, I will wonder what else is yet to come.