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Updated: Apr 4, 2023

MY FONDNESS FOR MAY borders on idolatry. I admit that. Her touch is a breeze of sunlight. Her laughter, the pelt of a rose. That it is my birthday later in the month could have something to do with it, I suppose, but there is more to it than that.

My oldest and fondest memories are bound to May. And to my grandparents' backyard. They built a swimming pool shortly after I was born. I don't remember much about that first summer. The following summer, however, I made my first splash. I thought grabbing my brother's leg as he jumped into the pool a good thing. I was eighteen months old. I "dog paddled," so I was told, in no particular direction until my father scooped me out.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day

Thou art more lovely and more temperate

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May

And summer's lease hath all too short a date. [1]

Summers were magic, bright, golden. Or that's how the poets tell it. We were kids. The poetry was with us. We hardly noticed. We certainly didn't think about it. We didn't think about much of anything. Ice cream, cranked out slowly by hand, the chrome cylinder, chill and sweating. The agonizing wait. We buried our faces in ice cold watermelon and put lightning bugs in a jar. As we get older, the poet says, that magic dissipates, recedes into deep memory, " . . . all its aching joys are now no more, and all its dizzy raptures."[2] But that I can love and appreciate today what I could not love or appreciate then, makes me richer, and, in its way, makes rapture more rapturous, dizzy dizzier, each with a poetry of its own.

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Apparell'd in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream... [3]

I am haunted, and feel the good fortune to be so. My ghosts are forgiving, as eager to see and hear me as me them. [I write historical biography and play a 65 year old Martin guitar. I spend a lot of time with ghosts.]

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines

And often is his gold complexion dimm'd.

And every fair from fair sometime declines.

By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd.

I stood at our front window this past Sunday. It was late afternoon. I was alone. The rain had just stopped. The sun was out again, but going down. The wet glaze of the street, the steam, the dying sun, I didn't mean to stare, necessarily. It just happened. The soft light that fell on the trees in front of our house and the peculiar pitch of the shadows it created among the leaves were a Maxfield Parrish painting, a sight more enchanting than I remember seeing, or ever allowing myself to see before. I don't know how long I stood staring. I couldn't help myself. And didn't care. Her medicines were working in me.

A healer among seasons, she [May] helps you forget. She helps you remember. She has properties to re-create. Her world is green and bulges with promise. Her weather, mild and accommodating. Invitation and welcome is everywhere. We open our windows again. We hear the buzz of tiny winged life just outside our screen doors and among the honey rich blossoms. She invites us to our porches where we can rock to the drowsy hum of time and cradle ourselves in the opiates of sunset. The muted laughter of children in the distance, a riot of giggles, and bees laboring among the blooms.

—TO LOVE IS CHRIST (originally titled THE MAY BOOK)

Go outside, she says. Feel my warmth, she says, my transformations. Breathe my air. Enjoy my perfumes—pine, new mown grass, mint, rose, and honeysuckle. Remember me, she says.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest,

Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou growest.

May is here, now, with its invitations, its permissions (as the name implies), its deathless optimism, its magnificent yes. The glory and the freshness of a dream... That is all the sermon I have.

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


[1] William Shakespeare, SONNET 18.

[2] William Wordsworth, excerpt "Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During A Tour, July 13, 1798." Lines 84-85.

[3] William Wordsworth, excerpt "Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood."

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