Ode to Joy
I’ve really been looking forward to spring. Winter has dragged on, and on, and on some more. The lingering effects of COVID have made it all even more tiresome. It’s felt like months of gray weather, mental fog, and a pervading dreariness that never seemed to lift.
Then, naturally, Putin decided to invade Ukraine.
At this point I don’t think any of us are surprised by more bad news. Still, I don’t think most of us had Russia threatening to drag us back to the 1980s on our list of possibilities.
Terrible things happen all over the world every day. Ukraine is not the only place where people are waging war; it is simply the most visible. And because what’s happening there is so prevalent on social media, it perhaps feels more inescapable, closer to home even though it’s happening 5,000 miles away.
Watching and worrying, I felt as though the arrival of spring was irrelevant. How could I enjoy the emerging daffodils and tulips we’d planted in the fall when people were being killed while waiting in line for food? What difference did it make if the bluebird pair checking out our bird houses decided to move into one and raise a family?
Cubby’s birthday is in March. As we met a couple of days before his birthday, it’s also our anniversary of getting together. Cubby loves parties, and having friends over, and for the past two years we haven’t been able to do that, which has been a big disappointment to him. This year, we hoped to finally have a gathering.
As much as I wanted to be excited about spring and birthdays and anniversaries, about gardening and bluebirds and parties, it felt somehow wrong to let myself do it. “I feel like I should be doing something about what’s going on in the world,” I told a friend. “But what can we do?”
“Sometimes joy is our strongest weapon,” she said.
“But…war,” I said.
“And what can you do about that?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I told her. “That’s the problem. I don’t feel like I can do anything.”
“Right,” she said. “And is feeling helpless doing any good? Is refusing to enjoy anything going to change things?”
“You have a birthday party to plan,” she said.
And so I planned a party. Well, actually, Cubby did most of the planning. But I did something else. I proposed. “What would you think about making it a combination birthday and engagement party?” I asked him.
This is not quite the impulsive decision it might seem. We’ve been talking about getting married for a while. But this made it official. And once the decision was made, it felt like a future appeared on the horizon. Not that there hadn’t been one before, but now I felt as if I had a larger reason to think about what the world might become. Instead of dwelling on what was being destroyed, I started to think about what could be built.
It’s a small thing, a tulip emerging from the ground after winter. It’s an everyday occurrence, a bluebird laying an egg. But also, these are little miracles, and acknowledging them helps me remember that life goes on, even in the face of the worst horrors. The planning of a garden is an investment in hope. And so I ordered seeds—sunflowers for the birds, dill for the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, some weird little cucumelons just because they supposedly taste like lemon and summer.
Soon, I will plant liatris and crocosmia and milkweed in the new garden where a statue of Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god, sits on a rock surveying the side yard. Ganesha is the remover of obstacles, the one asked for help before new beginnings. Spring is a new beginning for the gardens. My engagement to Cubby—something I could never have imagined as a possibility when I was growing up—is another commitment to the future.
Maybe, I hope, what’s happening in Ukraine will be another kind of beginning, another waking up. People seem to be paying attention. Will it become something more than that, some kind of revolution?
The poem “Ode to Joy” was written by German poet Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller in 1785 and is probably most well-known as part of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
Beethoven’s version is the official anthem of Europe, and it was famously part of the 1989 Christmas concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall.
It is not only an ode to joy, it is an ode to freedom, a revolutionary cry for justice. It is a reminder that recognizing the joy in the world creates a powerful force that grows and grows, surrounding all it touches and empowering us to effect change. So, as we greet the first day of spring, I will be embracing the joy around me and nurturing it like the seeds I’ll soon plant in our gardens. With a little luck, it will grow into something beautiful. ▼
Michael Thomas Ford is a much-published Lambda Literary award-winning author. Visit Michael at michaelthomasford.com