In my school days, we had to learn poems by heart and then recite them by rote on the auditorium stage. I remember Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ode to the month of May, “The Rhodora”:
In May, when sea winds pierce our solitudes,
I found the fresh rhodora in the woods,
spreading its blooms in a damp nook
to please the dessert and the sluggish brook. …
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.
I’ve left out a few verses, but the gist of it is a connection to the various ways we salute the month we call May with our Shavuot. We share its weeks and days with the other seasonal holidays, from Mother’s Day to the veterans and flag commemorations, and, of course, Memorial Day. We launched the latter to grieve over the tragedy of our Civil War and its loss of lives, as in all our military wars.
But back to our festival of springtime and the gift at Mount Sinai of the Torah, given on stone tablets to Moses. Well, it seems that during the Babylonian Exile, the Temple was neglected and thorns overwhelmed the rose garden ... except for one single blossom. And that shy single flower captured the soul of the visitor, who blessed it as a miracle of hope and faith. And the midrash cites it as a parable about the creator’s patience with our steep human failures.
That’s what I read, after thoroughly consulting any number of recipe books, dictionaries, and even Google, to seek something to focus on and identify with. I found a bond between Emerson’s “Rhodora” and his transcendentalist philosophy – and our Judaism. And I can find my own “miniaturist” taste for small souvenirs of all kinds, to keep yesterdays alive and with me and within me.
I can’t set the world on fire, but I can see, honor and be satisfied with a single peony, or a daffodil, or one bright, friendly smile. Plus, I eagerly look forward to a festive slice of cheesecake, and will choose, existentially, to wear my white mid-spring vest as I face forward to greet the day and honor my mother’s memory (and my father’s next month) to obey that commandment!
MIKE FINK (email@example.com) teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.