Pieces of the Past - Lovliest of Trees

Sifting through eight years of essays and blog posts to include in my book Life in General, has brought some persistent “themes” to light. One of them is Time - the quick passage of it, the constant dilemma of never having enough of it, the consistent question of how to make the best use of it. Many of my Facebook friends indulge in something called “Throwback Thursday”, posting photos of themselves from the past. I thought it might be fun to do something similar here, posting some of my favorite “ Pieces of the Past." Like this one from 2006. “Lovliest of Trees":


Too fast. That’s what I think about time.

It travels much too fast.

Remember how the days once crept by, every minute larger than life and filled with opportunities - for play, for laughter, for being with friends, for having fun. Did you ever give a thought to time running out, to not having enough of it?

When was the moment you first noticed the swift passage of time? For me it was my 16th birthday (and I need a calculator to determine exactly how long ago that was!) There’s a Polaroid picture of me in an old photo album somewhere, leaning in to blow out the candles on my cake, dressed in the plaid skirt of my school uniform, my long hair in two braids draped over my shoulders. Truthfully, I look more like 6 than 16 in that picture. Yet I recall looking in the mirror that day and thinking: “Someday you’ll be old.” Old like my mother, who was all of 45 at the time. Old like grandmother, who was 63.

Looking back on all the years since then, who could have believed they would travel so swiftly, a blur of college and marriage and motherhood. Like fast motion photography, it sped past me - my LIFE - leaving me standing here in the chill wind of ghostly memories. I brace myself each day, digging my heels into the earth to keep myself grounded firmly in this moment, whatever it might be.

I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m healthy, and strong. I’ve never faced mortal illness or danger. My family is rife with long-lived women, and thanks to advanced in modern medicine, I could conceivably count more years than any of them.

Yet those years fly by so fast, and there is still so much left to do.

There’s a poem by A.E. Housman, set to music by Ralph Vaughn Williams. It’s called Lovliest of Trees. It’s a lyric, poignant song which many of the high school girls I accompany choose to sing as a festival piece. It goes like this:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride,

Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten

Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy spring a score

It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room,

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.

If you do the math, the narrator of this poem is 20 years old, lamenting the thought of “only fifty more” springs. It makes me smile to hear teenage girls sing this song, trying to grasp the idea of a finite amount of time in which to save the cherry blossoms.

Well, I’ve had fifty springs, and more besides. They seem to roll around more quickly every year, those cherry blossom months. Soon, another long Michigan winter will have passed, the robins will return, and the sun will warm my skin. I’m grateful for that, although it reminds me of the swift network of time I’m traveling through.

So excuse me while I go wander the woodlands. There are cherry blossoms to savor.