For the Week of March 20, 2016: It’s Spring, Sweet Spring

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(e.e. cummings, “i thank You God for this most amazing,”100 Selected Poems, 1994)

“It’s the first day of spring,” my granddaughter announced in an early morning telephone call. I smiled at the excitement in her voice, remembering my childhood excitement when springtime appeared in Northern California.  Unlike the Southern California home I now inhabit, the seasons, much like those in my granddaughter’s Canadian home, were more distinct, calendar dates celebrated with art activities and science discussions in school classes,  trees, barren during the winter months, beginning to bud.  Crocuses poked their heads through the soil, promising the advent of tulips and daffodils in the following weeks.  The air was crisp and fresh; We took our afterschool play outdoors, tromping through muddy fields and hillsides, jumping rope and drawing hopscotch squares on sidewalks for play.   The air was alive with promise and new beginnings.  We were possessed with a sense of newness, of life beginning, the excitement so wonderfully described in e.e. cumming’s “Chansons Innocentes I”:

in Just-

spring       when the world is mud-

luscious the little

lame balloonman

whistles       far       and wee

and eddieandbill come

running from marbles and

piracies and it’s

spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

… bettyandisbel come dancing

 from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s

spring…

(From:  [in-Just], Complete Poems, 1904-1962)

I was cheered by my chat with my second granddaughter.  Her mother and I have been worried about her aunt, my younger daughter and her family, returning to Florida, where her husband is stationed, after five years living in Okinawa. It has been an emotional leave-taking for them.  They loved the island, the culture, and made many friends among the Okinawans.  Her sister and I have felt Claire’s sorrow, and my heart aches for them, knowing too well the pain of leaving a place one loves deeply.  Yet I felt hope this morning as I remembered it is the first day of spring, a time of new beginnings.  Perhaps it can be a metaphor for their transition and return to Florida, however sad the mandated return feels right now.  Springtime is also a season of hope.

Seasons provide apt metaphors for our life journeys.  The similarities of human development to the seasons of nature are powerful attractions for our imaginations.  Throughout human history, our ancestors have celebrated the seasons and used them to define life’s stages: childhood was spring; youth became summer; autumn described adulthood, and winter was synonymous for old age.

Nature’s four seasons have provided description and metaphors, in medical literature and poetry, for the cancer experience.  Writing in a 2009 article in Cure Today, Kenneth Miller, MD outlined four distinct “seasons” of survivorship:

  1. Acute survivorship: a person is diagnosed and treated.
  2. Transitional survivorship: celebration is blended with worry and loss as a patient pulls away from the treatment team.
  3. Extended survivorship: includes those who are living with cancer as a chronic disease and individuals in remission and ongoing treatment.
  4. Permanent survivorship: people who are in remission and asymptomatic, or, cancer-free but not free of cancer because of chronic late and long-term health or psychosocial problems. Secondary cancers related to treatment or those not related to the first cancer or treatment may also develop.

His observations were informed by his patients’ experiences and of his wife’s, treated for acute leukemia and later, breast cancer.  As Miller reflected on the experience, he compared her stages of cancer and recovery to seasons in nature:

I have learned just as much about cancer and the seasons of survivorship in my work as a medical oncologist as I have alongside my wife, Joan, he wrote, who was treated 10 years ago for acute leukemia and more recently for breast cancer. Her diagnosis was certainly like the cold, bleak winter, and transition like the rebirth of spring. And while each season was different than the others, each was beautiful in its own way.

Whether the life cycle or of illness, the four seasons are powerful metaphors for what we experience.   For example, Marilyn Hacker’s 1994 collection of poetry, Winter Numbers, invokes the darkness and cold of winter as she details the loss of many of her friends to AIDS or cancer and explores her struggle with breast cancer.  Dan Matthews chronicled the journey of his wife’s terminal breast cancer in a poetry collection, Rain, Heavy at Times: Life in the Cancer Months (2007).  John Sokol’s cancer experience is described in his poetry collection, In the Summer of Cancer (2003).  But it’s spring, sweet spring, this 20th day of March, and I turn to Barbara Crooker’s poem,  “For a Friend Lying in Intensive Care Waiting For Her White Blood Cells to Rejuvenate After a Bone Marrow Transplant,” a poem of hope that uses springtime, the season of renewal and rejuvenation as its metaphor:

The jonquils. They come back. They split the earth with

their green swords, bearing cups of light.

The forsythia comes back, spraying its thin whips with

blossom, one loud yellow shout.

The robins. They come back. They pull the sun on the

silver thread of their song.

The iris come back. They dance in the soft air in silken

gowns of midnight blue.

The lilacs come back. They trail their perfume like a scarf

of violet chiffon.

And the leaves come back, on every tree and bush, millions

and millions of small green hands applauding your return.

(in:  Selected Poems, 2015)

As I write, I think again of the excitement in my granddaughter’s voice.  “It’s the first day of Spring today!”  My thoughts turn to a children’s book, pages dog-eared, and the cover faded, that sits on my bookshelves.  I’ve read it aloud to my daughters as children, to preschoolers and to adults in my writing classes.  Frederick, by Leo Lionni, is the story of a family of field mice, preparing for winter.  They’re busy storing nuts and straw in their burrow, preparing for the cold and dark of the winter months.  That is, everyone but Frederick, who seems to doze throughout the preparations.  They chide him, but he responds that he is collecting sun rays and colors—his contributions to the winter supplies, for the winter months are cold and dark.  They laugh at him until, when supplies are low and no one is feeling very happy, they ask, “What about your supplies, Frederick?”  He surprises them with a poem about the four seasons, then asks,

Aren’t we lucky the seasons are four?

Think of a year with one less…or one more!

(From: Frederick, by Leo Lionni, 1967)

Writing Suggestion:

This week, consider the season.  Go outdoors or look out your window.  What are the signs of spring you see?  Can you find a metaphor lurking in this new season or any of the other three that describe some experience in your life?  Do you have a favorite season?  Which one?  Let Mother Nature be your inspiration this week.  Pay attention, notice, go outside.  You might even find a poem waiting for you to find it.

About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
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