Today, we were privileged to have our sixth Chinese poetry session with our poet in resident Steven Ratiner. Even though I have been participating in these workshops for seven years, I always learn something new from Steven each time he comes. Today, the children participated in a simulation of Orchid Pavilion Gathering,
a tradition that has been around in China for many centuries. In a Preface to the Poetry Composed at the Orchard Pavilion written in 353 CE by famous poet Wang Xizhi, he writes:
On this late spring day, the ninth year of Yonghe (353 AD), we gathered at Orchid Pavilion in Shaoxing to observe Water Festival. High mountains and luxuriant bamboo groves lie in the back; a limpid, swift stream gurgles around. We sat by the water, sharing the wine from a floating goblet while chanting poems, which gave us delight in spite of the absence of musical accompaniment. This is a sunny day with a capful valley breeze. Spreading before the eye is the beauty of nature, and hanging high is the immeasurable universe. This is perfect for an aspired mind.
Though born with different personalities – some give vent to their sentiment in a quiet chat while others repose their aspiration in Bohemianism – people find pleasure in what they pursue and never feel tired of it. Sometimes they pause to recall the days lapsed away. Realizing that what fascinated yesterday is a mere memory today, not to mention that everyone will return to nothingness, an unsuppressible sorrow would well up. Isn’t it sad to think of it?
I am often moved by ancients’ sentimental lines which lamented the swiftness and uncertainty of life. Since the nature of man remains the same regardless of the change of times, later generations will probably feel the same when they read these poems. This gives comfort.
Steven today went down a different route — he talked about the Cherry Blossom Festival that has just been celebrated in Japan. He spoke of a discussion between he and his wife about a tree to purchase for their front yard. Should it be a brilliant Japanese Red Maple tree, whose delicate leaves stay beautifully crimson all year or should it be a Weeping Cherry tree, who enjoys a spectacular five to ten days of extreme beauty but then looks rather ordinary?
For the Japanese, the cherry blossom reminds all that this beauty passes all too quickly and that you need to pay attention or you will miss this beauty. It’s a reminder to all about the need to slow down and appreciate those moments of passing beauty. I did a little more research on this festival also known as “Sakura” and learned from http://www.tokyotopia.com that
“Japanese people believe the Japanese cherry blossom captures and defines all that is vulnerable about being human. The sakura season gives us a timely reminder, once a year, that life is fleeting and time is precious.
This is a time to take stock and evaluate what you have achieved, and what you are going to do next, on your own life path. In essence, the cherry blossom cycle is seen as a metaphor for life.”
There is a connection between this definition from Tokyotopia.com and what Wang Xizhi had to say. Spring is a time of rebirth, a time to slow down and appreciate the little buds popping out on trees, the pea plants coming to life in the dark soil, and buds planted in the fall finally showing their true colors. As I know from losing my baby sister seven years ago, life is uncertain as Wang Xizhi said and that time is precious as is explained in the definition of Sakura. As the years tick by for me as well, I too lament on the swiftness of time. The two little boys in fire hats are now both halfway through their college careers. Even though I do not have a Cherry tree in my yard, this spring for me has most definitely been a time to evaluate what I have achieved and to think about what I will do next on my life path.
So, where do the tulips fit in? Last Columbus Day weekend, I planted 100 bulbs. On this cool, brilliant October afternoon, I carefully placed the 100 bulbs into holes that I had carefully dug into the mulch and the dirt. After placing each one into the hole, I sprinkled some bulb food on top and gently covered them up with the dirt. All spring, I have been going over to see what was happening with my bulbs. Would they come up at all? I didn’t remember what type of bulbs they all were. Green leaves started to pole through in late March and I was hoping that the still cold temperatures and April Fool’s Day snow would not kill them. More leaves kept unfurling. I noticed other people’s daffodils had bloomed, but still nothing from mine. I was worried that mine would not bloom. Finally one day after school, I noticed some color. Slowly but surely, I started to note some oranges peering out from the green leaves that cradled the bulb. Then, some red-orange flowers, and finally today, some pink tulips had revealed themselves to the world. Being in a very mindful mood after the poetry lesson today, I went in and got my camera. Despite some light rain, I looked carefully at each of them. They were all different. Just like my students. In the fall, I planted and nurtured them. Throughout these past few months, I have prodded them to reach higher. Over the past two months, I have been so pleased to see how they have broken through the ground and soared to a new zone. Just like seeing my tulips, I have delighted in seeing them grow in ways that I didn’t think possible when I planted them in the fall.
Spring for teachers is often a time that is so hectic that there isn’t time to stop and really look at neither flowers or our students in a slow, mindful manner. Today’s lesson inspired me to take comfort in the everyday beauty that passes by all too quickly. Sometimes lessons aren’t just for the students.