The tree in my front yard looks dead. It’s an eyesore, an ugly twig, not even 5 feet high, held upright by an equally ugly pole. Think Charlie Brown tree only without a hint of green.
But take your fingernail and scratch the bark from the tree and a pale green line appears. Even in the tiniest branch, there is green. The tree is alive. What appears to be dead isn’t. It’s the lesson that spring teaches us over and over.
A month ago, the world was all brown grass and bare trees and barren ground. From my office window, from my car window, when I was walking, everywhere I looked was dingy. Now my eyes take in green lawns, flowering trees, daffodils. And I think if all we had every spring were just daffodils, they would be enough to make me believe in the eternal.
But they are not all we have. They are not even a fraction of all we have.
The day I found the life sustaining green under the bark of my small tree, I also found a letter from an aunt who wrote to me a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The United States and the whole world was on edge then and I must have been, too, because why else would she have written this? “Stop worrying about the terrorists,” she began. “All my life there has been one thing or another to worry about. First it was air raids (WWII). We used to have drills. Then it was the A-bomb. In Junior High we were told if we saw a bright light in the sky to run to a closet and cover our head. At the same time, every summer we would worry, with good reason, about polio. Then it was space and being attacked by satellites. Now it is chemical and biological weapons and dirty bombs. Keep the news off. There are too many ‘experts’ on TV.”
I haven’t kept the news off. I watch it every night. My grandkids call it, “The Bad News of the World.” I’m addicted.
On Friday, April 23, the Bad News of the World reported that in northern Texas near the Oklahoma border, a rainbow and a tornado intersected. “The atmosphere’s most furious phenomenon met its most gentle,” the Washington Post proclaimed afterward. Dozens of people took photos and posted them online because this was a phenomenon. A rainbow and a tornado in the same small frame.
It may have been a meteorological phenomenon, but the furious and the gentle cohabitate in our lives every day. Rainbows and tornadoes. We live with them both.
Boston Public Garden is a rainbow right now. Trees in bloom. Gardens full of tulips. And daffodils. People getting along, strolling, laughing, taking pictures, posing for pictures, speaking different languages. Young. Old. No one shoving. No one yelling. No police presence.
On TV, there are always police. And armed civilians. And unrest and dissonance and no one getting along. TV news is all tornadoes.
The US Supreme Court is about to hear a freedom of speech case that could decide whether public schools can discipline students over something they say off-campus. In 2017, a 14-year-old who didn’t make varsity cheerleading posted a photo on Snapchat in which she and a friend held up their middle fingers while below their photo was this caption: “F--- school, f--- softball, f--- cheer, f--- everything.” The coaches discovered the post and kicked her off the squad for a year. Her parents, after appealing to school officials without success, filed a federal lawsuit with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union.
I know a 14-year-old who two weeks ago didn’t get something she tried out for, something that was important to her. When she was told she hadn’t been chosen, she didn’t rant. She was quiet for a while. Then she cried. And then she texted her congratulations to the winner.
Rainbows dazzle but then they fade. The good that people do may draw our attention, but good seldom keeps our attention. Because when a rainbow fades, it’s gone.
Tornadoes leave destruction in their wake. And the destruction is permanent. Which is why tornadoes make headlines and rainbows and daffodils and doing the right thing and scrawny trees trying to make their way in the world do not.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. Read more at beverlybeckham.com.