The Art of Seeing by Michael Milton

Yet sunshine brightens after rain,
The darkness comes and goes again,
So solace follows bitter pain,
As seasons wax and wane.
~Elizabeth Chase Akers Allen (18321911), “November,” c.1864

Winter is coming, is the oft repeated warning in TVs GAME OF THRONES, an ominous rumble, the suggestion that  something terrible is looming just off screen, a nightmare filled with unimaginable disaster and horror.

Winter came, went away and now has come BACK! was what I thought last Tuesday, shivering slightly as I looked outside towards the park as snow pelted my window.  My heart sagged.  For the two weeks before, Id watched as the trees had begun to thrust forth tightly bound green balls of soon-to-be pink blossoms.  Bulbs had pushed up their green offspring a couple of inches out of the ground.  The forsythiaalways the first harbinger of Springwas already blooming, its psychedelic yellow in stark contrast to a mousy end-of-winter palette.

What about all of the tulips in the Botanical Gardens? I grouse at no one in particular, the sky, maybe.  Or God.  What do You have to say about that!?  Hundreds of thousands of blooms well miss!  How could You??

I think of the number of springs Ive missed in my fully self- involved past, wrapped up in a cocoon of me, me, me, Springs glory just a hardly noticed set piece for the play entitled, not surprisingly, ME!

As I have grown older and time has made some (hopefully) positive inroads on my perspective, Ive begun to notice not just the moments of the full bloom of spring as I rush by;  I also now have begun to notice some of the subtle pre-bloom signs that something momentous is about to happen; the air, though still cold, seems to hold a bit more warmth with each passing day, neighborhood lawns are turning a brighter green,  more sunlight triggers more birdsong.  The world turns on its axis yet again and what is old is new once more.   I have become a happier man because of my expanded outlook.  Happy and, sometimes sad, too.

I understand better and better with each passing year that my number of allotted springs  is limited.  That number was always limited, of course.  Im simply more aware of that fact, gloominess about passing Time an uneasy roommate with a newly aroused spring joy.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 21: The Washington Monument fades into blowing snow on the National Mall January 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. A strong winter storm is bearing down on the East Coast between Virginia and Massachusetts and could dump four to eight inches of snow on the Washington area. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 464555285

Yet, who isnt somewhat gloomy, these days, be it an unprecedented 78 degree day in early March or a late season blizzard 3 weeks later?  Winter IS coming whatever the calendar may tell us.   The White Walkers are awakening, The Nights Watch is our protection and Castle Black our last hope.  Politically, socially, morally we are snowed in 10 feet deep, with no sign of warmth on the horizon  Daylight Savings time notwithstanding.

Sure, sure, I think.  All of that may be truebut what about the tulips in Prospect Park!!!

My instructor at the Buddhist zendo I attend asks, What if this recent snowwhich cut short the life of these struggling tendrils just reaching above the ground–what if its simply another thing?  Another moment, come and gone;  like a good mood or a bad mood, happy or sad, excited or bored.  Just another  thing? that will have transformed to some other thing with our next breath.

Buddhists really do talk that way.  Yet, I can almost make out what it is he is mysteriously trying to say.  My expectation of a certain kind of springlike other expectations I haverarely is manifested in quite the way I imagine.  I look forward to Spring out there in the future, in the dead of winter, and I miss it when its something in the past in the hot and humid days of summer.  And really, the only time to really embrace  a tulip is in the Now.  Right now.  Nowoops, you missed it!  Now.

I expect hot water will come out of the faucet at my command.  I expect my salmon from the market will be fresh.  I expect that the government is watching out for my freedoms, for our democracy.  I expect all of this and so much more, but based on what?  Habit?  Laziness? Petulance?  What I so often forget is that what I expect to be mine by right of being human is, in fact, not de rigeur for most of the rest of the worlds populations.  Though, to be perfectly honest, expectation is human and not barred entry from the poorest and most put upon regions of the earth. How do we say yes to the winterthe other one we didnt expect, the one that will still be with us when we finally struggle our way out of the melting snow and ice of last weeks blizzard?

Is it really just another thing.

The snow piled up along the streets near my apartment transformed quickly from pristine and glittering white to pocked greyish frozen dishwater.  By next week, it will mostly be gone, finally washed clean by rain and sun.

Tulips next year?  Maybe.  A change in the tide in Washington?  Most certainly.  That Ill ever commit to reading all of the GAME OF THRONES books?  Unlikely.

Still, change is, as someone far wiser than I once said, the only thing we can be sure of.  Take heart.  The winter that is coming will also, one day, be gone.

Michael Milton

Michael Milton worked as an Associate Producer with Marty Richards, Sam Crothers and Robert Fryer at The Producer Circle Co. in New York City for over twenty years. Broadway: THE LIFE (2 Tony Awards),...

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