I remember riding on the stiff back seat of our big station wagon one May evening when I was a child. The twilight had passed while we were celebrating the year’s accomplishments at our little school and the night had turned cool. The big bouquets of lilacs and white viburnum which we called snowballs, and which we had brought to our teachers, had left a trace of fragrance in the big car that was now quickly banished as my parents lit their cigarettes, the crinkling orange coals at the tips brightening like twin, coral suns with the duet of their puffs.
My window was open, no seat belt binding, my elbow and shoulder out the window as I looked up at the sapphire blue sky. The May evening sky was that clear, deep blue... a shade with a tinge of warmth in it, the promise of summer. Above, in that endless blue canopy, twinkled thousands of stars.
As we rushed beneath the great, old trees whose branches hung over the street, I noticed leaves on the boughs, full, unfurled leaves whose green seems a subtle shade beneath that deep, bright blue. As Fitzgerald describes, it was “a loud bright night with wings beating in the trees.”
I remember thinking, this is May; the leaves are all out, wondering how this had happened without my noticing and wanting to remember to wait yearly for this important event.
I suppose that’s when I heard it; that’s when, for the first time, I heard the rustling of the new leaves on the night wind. It is a sound full of mystery and promise. A sound of surprise and wonder, something that wasn’t there days ago now whispers eternity above. The seasons have changed and the earth is whispering the truth of its mysterious rhythms.
Sometime later in life, I learned that this sound is called the soughing of the wind in the leaves. When I visit my garden in the evenings, I listen for it; if I am inside and see the wind turning the leaves over and bending the treetops with its swift, insouciant pass, I’ve been known to rush outside to catch the sound. And it is always with a lingering longing that I listen to the goodbye whisper of leaves gone crisp and crimson as the sun itself before their inevitable fall in October storms.
All winter, the wind blows and sometimes I hear the boughs creak and branches crack. And in early spring, in April, there are hot days that bring the leaves forth when the sky looks too bright and the glare on the bare branches seems merciless, too much too soon and therefore weird and scary. Not in May. Everything seems right in May, green grass, flowers everywhere, wee apples on my trees, birds busy in the garden. And if the day is too hot, a few steps under a big, leafy tree means cool shelter. And if the day is hot, the night—when the wind soughs through the trees— will not be.
The burst of life in May has mirrored personal events in my life. Six times I’ve waited for a baby boy to be born in May. All three of my sons were due in May and I as I waited, I watched the signs of spring, pulled lilies of the valley from their broad leaves, planted cheery annuals, made strawberry jam and listened to the promise of the wind soughing through the leaves above.
Though three were due, only one of my sons was actually born in May, born during the last fifteen minutes of May and now in recent years May has brought two nephews and just now—one new grandson.
When my son Joe was born, I came home quickly from the hospital. He was a darling baby, with the amused, friendly, quizzical cheer that distinguishes his character visible then in his darling face. His room was at the back of our house and when I brought him to it, the loveliest, sweetest scent met me. That May breeze sent the flavor of the sun and flowers through the open windows with the perfume of the honeysuckle that wound its vines around the trees in our yard.
I know boys are tough and brave and manly. I know they aren’t to be compared to flowers. I know they are born making sound effects and like to pick up worms and watch toads pee on their grimy hands. And Joe is all these manly things and more. But Joe has always reminded me of those sensory moments of awareness, of looking up, of homecoming. He has always been a delight. He knows how to be the most faithful friend, always fun, always affectionate, and when I see him, my heart fills with joy and wonder.
I wonder if the moment of every child’s birth carries some of the beautiful characteristics of the day, the season. Just as I wished for Joe, born in May, I do also for my new grandson. I wish all the beauty of May, all the blossoming of rich promises fulfilled in ways startling and beautiful and right. I wish the gentleness and warmth, the productivity of nesting birds, the industry of the bees. I wish that he be always a sweet-smelling fragrance to his parents, to his world and to his God. I wish for the strength and mysterious obedience of the wind to be his, for the gentle, exciting sounds of eternity to inspire him.
And a thousand other blessings to you, to Joe and those dear ones born in May…