November 23, 2017

Simcha Fisher: The hard way

PHOTO: Annie Spratt

When I want my daughter to do something, sometimes I will ask her, “Easy way or hard way?” She is two-and-a-half and very smart. I know it will pass, but right now, she always chooses the hard way.

Even if she wants to go to sleep, she will kick and scream and try to slither out of my arms when I put her in her crib. Even if she is tired of playing on the slide, she will writhe and bite and howl as we drag her away from the playground. Even if she is desperately hungry for the toast she asked for, she will throw it on the ground and step on it before she consents to eat it. She likes to do things the hard way. It will pass! But right now, that’s just who she is.

We had a rare moment of peace this morning. We sat in the untidy grass out back, plucking the last of the grapes from the vine that climbs around the shed. Some grapes were withered, some had been sucked dry by the birds on their way to warmer places. But some were full and gracious, heavy with juice in a warm, dusky skin that tore open magnificently between the teeth. “‘Member, don’t eat seeds,” my little girl cautioned me, as she crunched her seeds. Her cheeks and fingers were painted purple. I spit the seeds into my palm, and each one was delicately designed like a little fox head, brown and tan, with secret thoughts of next spring hiding inside.

We watched a yellow jacket clamber around in the last of the yellow hawk weed, finding his last meal, unwittingly working to spread the yellow pollen that brings more and more yellow into the world. The untidy grass around him gleamed.

Milkweed pods give up their fluff. Source: Pixabay

Tired of grapes, my daughter found a glossy milkweed fluff. She knows what these are for: They are for flying. You toss them as high as you can, and some of them, with their oval seeds, are caught up by invisible gusts that take them into the cirrus-filled sky out of sight. Some of them are caught on the roof shingles; some swirl around stupidly and snag themselves on your pant legs. Some of them simply drop where they are dropped.

We wanted more, so we hustled over to the mint patch, where the pushy hoards of wild mint must be mowed and mowed again to keep them from making everything into mint. Milkweed is one of the few wild weeds that holds it own among these invaders. We found some crisp pods, mid-explosion, half hysterical with glossy fluff and seeds, half quietly harboring a round in reserve.

The pods were easy to crack, and inside, the seeds lay regimented like fish scales, like eyes on a peacock, like an army, like a pattern I’ve seen ten thousand times before.

But nothing is like milkweed fluff. It is so bright, so needlessly bright, and so light, when you let it go.

“Why did you do it this way?” I asked my Lord, for the ten thousandth time. If life is so important to You, there are so many simpler ways You could have done it. If You wanted the world to keep on ticking, it would have been enough to make it all the same, maybe even black and white. You could have worked it out that way. We could have done without grapes and flowers.

PHOTO: Bas Ven Velzen

We could have done without a multitude of categories of clouds, without birds that migrate, bugs that pollinate, mint and milkweed that battle, and little girls who know something about flying. We could have been moved by fear and panic and compulsion, rather than by beauty and longing. Why is there beauty? Why is there life that delights in life?

The world gleams. But it is so untidy. There is yellow that compels us to come and eat, which multiplies the yellow in the spring. I haven’t forgotten that the yellow jacket also stings. We find orderly seeds and feel compelled to scatter them, and that is a different kind of order of things.

And You know some of them will not fly, Lord. Some will tangle, some will drop. Some of us will see this world and love it for itself. Forget to praise you. Never wonder where it came from. Stain our mouths with purple, swallow the seeds, and move along.

Why, I asked, did You have to do it the hard way?

I don’t want to put words into my Lord’s mouth, but I think it’s just who He is.

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