Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Is it “Worthwhile” to Look at the Flowers?

May is coming to an end.

As you know, I am fond of things that grow. I often post pictures of flowers and fields and streams, although I know very little about the facts and specifications associated with them. I could learn more about them, and perhaps I will in the future. But over the past decade I have preferred to appreciate them with a quiet discursive mind, allowing greater scope for simply seeing them every year, doing a little photography and/or art inspired by them, and sharing their annual images.

I spend almost all my other waking time studying, reading, writing, doing creative work, thinking - all of which, in recent months, have become more difficult for reasons I don’t know but which I hope are temporary. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the unprecedented events of the past two years - jarring for humans even for this perpetually tumultuous emerging epoch that we live in - have brought many of us to the brink of a psychological and emotional exhaustion that we can’t afford to admit to ourselves. We are keenly aware, still (even if only in the back of our minds) that we have not arrived at anything like a decisive resolution to the global crisis that began more than two years ago. Twitter feeds and clickbait headlines preserve their determination to remain fickle and easily diverted. We must not allow them to remake us into fickle, easily diverted people. Many human challenges and catastrophes that we were introduced to in 2020 (and 2022) remain very much on center stage.

So it may seem that flowers, and the appreciation of their surprising yet tenuous beauty, provide an opportunity to escape from the seriousness (an often unwelcome) business of engaging the controversies of our time. That is not true. Flowers are very serious indeed. But we waste too much time, in any case, living the pretense that every problem depends on our securing the correct opinion, doing “something” about it, and defeating the opinions of our adversaries (who are, of course, wrong). Certainly we all have tasks, responsibilities, reflections to contribute, and also convictions about reality where we must take a stand. And when we do take a stand, it is more often a matter of endurance and fidelity - a matter of patience, sacrifice, suffering, witness [even martyrdom] rather than “winning” or success in seizing power with too much presumption that we will be different, that we will use it for the good.

The flowers give us a chance to “rest” from the burdens we so often impose upon ourselves.

They bloom every season for a few weeks, and then give place to the verdant leaves of Summer. There is nothing to argue about here: perhaps many people are already bored of them before they disappear. Can they really be worth our attention? Flowers are nice. They are sentimental. They seem to be the opposite of “provocative,” and they don’t move or challenge (or threaten) anyone, except perhaps poets and lovers. Some flowers are edible, or decorative, or useful in other ways, but otherwise what concern are they to us? When we need to pour the concrete for the sake of building new edifices of human convenience or diversion, who thinks of the flowers?

Don’t misunderstand me. There are things we must build. But we must build carefully, with greater simplicity and attention, because one of the foundations of “sustainable human development” is recognition of gratuitous beauty.

That’s the thing about flowers: colors and formations and intricacies and such variety of inherent coherence in the flowers of Spring. They are beautiful. They are exquisitely “made”… but not by me, nor by anyone on this earth. We can make synthetic copies; we can cross breeds; we can cultivate them. Even if someone were to produce an organic flower entirely in a laboratory, they would still be copying something first encountered “gratuitously” in the world.

The flowers surprise us every Spring. It is good to encounter them and be stirred by the gift of their beauty. Then, in a few weeks, they are gone. But we still want to find the Beauty that resonated in those flowers, a Beauty that is beyond us, beyond all of its gratuitous abundance of gifts, an indestructible Beauty.

All of life is a search for this Beauty that never ends. The flowers cannot satisfy us, but they are signs that give us hope.