Spring in Northern Virginia has been a moveable feast this year. The cherry blossoms came out early and remained on display, it seemed, forever. White apple blossoms competed with them in heart-rending beauty, and the other fruit trees were not far behind: the little plum tree in my front yard blazed like a torch for weeks.
Because, in this part of the country, we take global warming seriously, the weather has been cool verging on cold. But there have been no frosts, no windstorms, and no big rainstorms until this weekend’s monsoons, so the petals clung to life miraculously. Everything bloomed at once. Right now, the ghosts of yellow forsythias still linger next to banks of red azalias, and the dogwoods are in full flower. It has felt less like a new season than an object lesson in the glory and persistence of life.
Last week, two uncles of mine, my father’s brothers, died. One I knew very well, and was among my favorite human beings. He was literally larger than life: a tall, straight oak tree of a man, a psychiatrist, a healer, and a very funny guy. They tell me he died well, surrounded by his children — my cousins — listening to Mozart, playing the game on his terms to the end. But now he’s gone.
My father died amid the snows of January. I don’t know what would be better, what I’d prefer: to leave this world without having to regret the cherry blossoms outside my window, or saluting them as I went out. I suppose it doesn’t matter. We don’t set the hour of death. For good or evil, it’s an appointment made for us without a care for our plans: and lucky is the man who can prepare for it.
When I write of morality in this blog, it often seems like an abstract thing — rationalism and tradition, nihilism and character, words, words, words. But I am writing, or at least trying to write, about life and death. What use would such rich words be, to an impoverished life? What good is knowing how to live, if I never learn how to die?
Morality — even the vulgar kind espoused and explained in this wordy blog — is about worth: the kind of life worth living, and the kind of death worthy of such a life. It gives us the joy of spring, and its wild-colored flowers, but also prepares us for winter — because winter will come, and must be reckoned with.