“the month of May was come, when every lusty heart beginneth to blossom, and to bring forth fruit; for like as herbs and trees bring forth fruit and flourish in May, in like wise every lusty heart that is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds. For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May, in something to constrain him to some manner of thing more in that month than in any other month, for divers causes. For then all herbs and trees renew a man and woman, and likewise lovers call again to their mind old gentleness and old service, and many kind deeds that were forgotten by negligence.”
-Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur
In southern New Jersey, where I live, spring is in full force. Gone are the early harbingers, the crocuses, snowbells, and daffodils—we’ve moved on! Now tulips, azaleas, and other late spring flowers dot the landscape, along with the last of the flowering trees, still adorned with petals of pink or white. They sway lightly in the breeze like a ballerina’s tulle skirt, strong and fragile. The leaves on the trees are still mostly small and that yellow-green that exists only in the spring; the trees have not yet donned their larger and darker summer-green raiment.
The days are sunny and bright. The nights are cool and still require a blanket. There is hope in the gentle spring breezes. It floats in the air and sings a duet with the birds.
It is all so beautiful. My heart rejoices in the loveliness and makes me feel reborn. This is the season of rebirth. A few nights ago my husband saw scores of bats swarm into the evening sky. According to what I’ve read, they are now emerging from hibernation and looking for suitable areas to set up their “maternity wings.” I hope they stick around and eat the mosquitoes that will soon be taking over our backyard.
Death and rebirth. These themes appear in religions and cultures throughout the world. The Corn Mother dies so that corn can appear to feed her children. “The circle of life.” “To every thing there is a season.” “And the seasons they go round and round.” These ideas are almost—but not quite—clichés. We all know that the seasons go round and round, but every one of us experiences it differently. Every birth or death of a loved one is unique. It doesn’t matter how many times it has happened before. The first steps or first words of your own children are minor miracles—to parents and grandparents, but not to anyone else.
Death and rebirth. There is a personal connection for me in May. My father died in May years ago when our daughters were young. He did not live to see them grow up to become amazing and wonderful young women. Our daughters were conceived in May. Yes, “the lusty month of May.” Ahem. Death and rebirth.
In the United States, May is the month of college graduations–death and rebirth of another sort. The ceremony during which academic degrees are dispersed is called “commencement.” It is the end of a course of study, and the beginning of a new life. Three years ago, our older daughter graduated from college, and in a couple of weeks, our younger daughter will do so. Millions have gone through this ritual, but to us, the proud parents, these two graduations are unique and wondrous, as they should be. One daughter has embarked upon her “grown up” life, and the other will soon do so. I am incredibly proud of them.
In May, we see life reborn, both literally and metaphorically. In May we are restored, “for then all herbs and trees renew a man and woman.” And although we cannot go back, we can continue to hope and dream. As Joni Mitchell wrote:
“There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through.”
“When joy like these salute the sense,
And bloom and perfume fill the day,
Then waiting long hath recompense,
And all the world is glad with May.”
–John Burroughs, “In May”