FINALLY, the crocuses are up around the driveway. The yellow and purple buds broke out yesterday morning, dozens of them, easily twice as many as we had last year. Nearby, vigorous clusters of tulips have forced themselves out of the ground, on time for once, not prematurely. There were no warm days in January to lure them out of the ground, ruining their buds. They will bloom well this spring.
People around here are always suspicious of March, unsure whether the warm, early days of this month really mean that winter had ended or whether we are being set up for a bad joke, for a final bad storm. It rains in March around here and it can be bitterly cold and windy, and when the snows finally melted last week we wanted to welcome spring and yet we had to hestitate. The winter has simply been too grim.
We have, of course, been mercilessly toyed with by the weather. We had to cope with two snowstorms in February, traffic jams that brought the city to a standstill, and when we though they were over, we got blindsided by the worst snowstorm in 50 years. Some of us who were stranded at home met our neighbors for the first time, and others of us had our basements flooded for the first time, and it seems like everyboday had cars flood and batteries die in traffic jams that continued night after night.
If it wasn't the snow, it was the farmers delaying Washington commuters who can't do anything to help the farmers in the first place and who wouldn't think of doing anything for them now. They pushed our hospitality too far and we forgot that part of living in the capital is living in the midst of the action. We sat in traffic, gesturing in frustration and we turned against the farmers: what right did they have to come here and mess up our lives?
But that was only part of it. The final days of winter brought strains and tribulations that wore us down, but maybe that's because we were tired, perhaps emotionally exhausted, at the beginning. Even before it got really cold, while we could still remember the warmth and colors of the marvelously long fall, came the news of Jonestown and day after day last November details unraveled of an atrocity the likes of which we never could have imagined.
It wasn't just the number of people who died. Numbers we can handle. We have lived and relived Bietnam and we can read in the newspapers about hundreds of people dying in an air crash or a natural disaster and we can put the paper down and forget about it. These things happen in life. But Jonestown was different. People destroyed themselves, but they also destroyed their children. Mothers and fathers did the unthinkable. They turned on the children to whom they had given life, severing the strongest, most precious human bond.
We tried for weeks, through hundreds of thousands of words on paper and on the air, to make sense out of what had happened, to analyze it, to find out how it could have been avoided, to pin the blame. But the mystery and puzzle of what happened was too progound. For a nation accustomed to instant answers, there was only bewilderment. There are no answers to Jonestown, and through the winter some of us carried a particularly heavy kind of gloom, a troubling knowledge that we had come dangerously close to the darkest, most evil side of the human psyche.
Time has healed some of this, and the final days of winter have brought more manageable problems. We awake now to news of revolutionary tribunals and instant executions in a country we once thought was a civilized ally, and we awake to dire predictions of a $1-a-gallon gasoline and to news of the school strike. These are annoyances and worries, but these are problems we can cope with.
The burden of winter is lifting at last. There are still problems in our lives, to be sure, but we seem to manage them a little better when we can wake up and see the sunshine and go outside for the newspaper and smell the clean, crisp air, and come back inside and drink coffee and read about spring training. We can wear sportscoats to work instead of heavy topcoats, shoes instead of boots, and even commuting seems almost enjoyable when we can watch people drive by with their windows and convertible tops down.
It may get cold and rainy again this March, but the worst is surely over. A friend who is young says he feels better now. People are in better moods. In the morning, the world is a better place to walk into. Girls are wearing skirts. People are wearing colors.
The 3-year-old routinely greets the day now by rushing into the sunshine and insisting he can wear a sports jacket. Spring means he can once again play outside. He is alive with spring and it is contagious to watch him. It is also reassuring. He knows nothing of the grim winter, only that he couldn't go outside, and yet someday he will feel the weight of worldly things. They won't be too much for him. There is too much life, too much vitality there. He'll be okay.
Ours is an age that questions having children and this has been a winter to sharply provoke such questions. What deranged, desperate world, what bleak and unsteady future are we offering them?
But these are unanswered questions that belong to winter. Spring is a time for setting them aside, for renewing hope and expectations. It is a time to feel pleasure and exhilaration coming purely from the season. It is a time to watch the 3-year-old and marvel at his love of life, his energy and his enthusiasm.
It is a time for planning and anticipation and, for us, a time to feel the special joy that comes with the first stirrings of an unborn child.