Monday, May 13, 2013


These days, in damp and drizzle and wind and hail and chill, the streets of Toronto are paved with gold, and green-gold and white and pale pink and pink-red….the tiny yellow-green maple tree flowers, the cherry and plum and apple and flowering almond blossom petals, that are being washed and blown to the pavement by rain and wind. It’s a dazzling show for those like me who are walking people. The vivid colours are kind of hallucinatory as I rush along; today I was in a hurry to get out of the cold.

The other day I was hurrying along petalled streets to see a young friend whose first baby was born at the end of March. It was my first sight of her. Olivia is of course downy-soft and adorable, her little fists clenched under her chin as she sleeps, her gaze direct and alert when she’s awake. I took her mother some books, kid books, to get her library started. I imagine them later with perhaps crayon lines and marks in them, and fingerprints. Every child needs a store of books. I’m no good at buying clothes or other things; I never know what’s needed or wanted. And anyway, babies grow like weeds, so todays large garment is tomorrow’s giveaway. I’d rather give books.

And that got me thinking about permanence and impermanence. Those flowering trees, fragrant or not, give us a moment of heart-stopping beauty, and then it’s washed away. The tree remains, a reminder of a moment, and it promises us another next year. So too a book gives us intense moments of pleasure, or connection, and later on its presence on the shelf reminds us of those moments and perhaps invites us to open it again and reread it. Kids of course love the familiarity of the already well-known book. They will ask to have the same book read over and over, weekly or nightly. We lose some of that impulse when we become autonomous readers. We seek out the new.

And yet at the same time there are some books that I go back to and reread, as a kind of soothing technique, a remnant of kid-impulse I think. They are mostly books that I read as a kid or teenager: the Complete Sherlock Holmes, in two volumes, is one candidate for rereading, perhaps every three or four years. For my kids it’s the Philip Pullman books, and some of the Harry Potters.

Perhaps it’s age, and the perspective it can give as I gaze back in time, or put my head into an earlier year’s place and gaze forward, but I am more and more aware that one of the things that keeps me feeling alive and well is an ongoing effort to keep a sense of balance as things around me change. Those can be the seasonal changes, that remind us of fragility and loss, even as those first blossoms are emerging on the trees. Or they can be the announcement that a friend or the parent of a friend has only a limited time to live, or the demolition of a familiar building on a neighbourhood streetcorner, or the closing of a bookstore, or the purchase of a new piece of technology that is complicated and needs to be mastered.

All change can be disorienting, or anxiety-making, even just as we contemplate the possibility of change, let alone when it shocks us with its suddenness.

I love through-lines, stories that continue across generations or across continents and oceans. I like other people’s family stories, the history of long-term friendships, I like thinking about the long-term cross-linkages in my own family and in my life. That idea of some kind of continuity is precious. And for me perhaps it’s what helps me keep my balance in the day to day changing scene, helps me enjoy the dynamism of young people’s ideas and the liveliness of their open horizons.

And so as the tulips fade and the petals fall from the flowering fruit trees, rather than regretting their passage, I love the anticipation of the next phase of the year: rhubarb and sorrel and tarragon now my garden, tender asparagus now coming into the farmers’ markets, and then after that the generosities of summer. Yes! 

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