Spring is not the season of new life. It is the season of death.
I was reminded of this yesterday while I spent the day working in the garden. Rather than ushering new seedlings into being, I was elbow deep in the detritus that filled our yard. My husband removed an old cherry tree that had not survived winters before. I tore out weeds and the remains of the flowers we loved last year. We were surrounded by things that had once lived and died.
Every April, this truth is apparent.
I was a junior in college, eating lunch with a friend. She asked if I had heard the news, that someone had been shot that morning at the school where her fiancé attended. The school whose football team I had always rooted for, the one where nearly all of my high school friends attended, the one in the town where I had gone to church. While we spoke, bullets had already torn through bodies and through the community. Blood had flown and the tears did as well. They would not stop for days, for weeks, for lifetimes. It was enough to water all of the gardens that had been planted in only hope weeks before.
We parted and I called my mother to ask if she had heard the news. “Eight.” She said. “Eight people have been shot.” We hung up, and I began to cry. Standing in the middle of the student center, staring at the TVs that showed the news, listening to a reporter confirm one death and a possible second at the university in Blacksburg, I cried. People stopped to watch, turning from the TVs to me and back again. I tried to explain through the tears. A stranger stopped, and put her arm around me, offering me a tissue. She stood with me, watching as the news report changed, and the numbers on the screen began to tick upwards.
The bathroom offered sanctuary, and I collected myself in there, listening to another girl sob in the bathroom stall. She kept telling the person on the other end of the phone call she loved her. She came out, and we hugged as she told me her sister had been working on campus. Mine had been as well that day, I learned later that night.
A friend took me in, and we watched the news. Ten. Twenty two. Thirty. The numbers no longer mattered. I texted friends from home, learning one by one they were safe. Thirty two. My body shook until it hurt, until the pain felt good because it was real.
I waited for the list. It came, and I knew one of the names on it, a former classmate whom I had run into on campus the last time I was home a few months earlier. He had smiled and we chatted; he waved goodbye. My sisters knew others.
Mistakenly, I attended class the next day. The professor placed a test in front of me, a test I had forgotten about. I turned it in blank. I did not attend school for the rest of the week. For the rest of that spring, I sat in my own French class staring at the door, wondering what would happen if evil walked in.
A hometown should remain as it does in one’s childhood memories. Immune to new construction that draws its face unrecognizable. Immune to tragedies. When I drove home later that spring, it looked much the same, except there were more flowers this time. The flowers were strung into wreaths, laid against stones, resting by candles. The town shone with flowers.
Spring is not the season of new life. It is the season of struggle, of a battle between life and the force that continually attempts to conquer it.
Now I live on the other side of the country, in a state where people know the school’s name because of football and because of the massacre, although they only ever mention the first. I live in mountains where the storms of winter do not cease in spring. Occasionally a cold and cruel snow will fall down, temporarily halting the birth of the world.
Life will eventually win, it is true. Life persists, it insists upon that. Eventually the tumult of April will pass and the world will bloom in full. The cycle will not end there, cold will come again and spring will eventually emerge victorious once more. Life struggles through pain. Children are born to the sound of their mother’s screams; flowers burst out of a land that once was frozen.
Pain never ends. Neither does life.