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Sun, Aug. 25

Piacenza: Who has seen the wind?

Of all the nursery rhymes, silly songs and TV jingles I heard and repeated as a child, there was one I learned in my first days of school that has stuck in my memory for the many decades between then and now:

“Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I. But when the tress bow down their leaves, The wind is passing by. Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you. But when the trees bow down their leaves, The wind is passing through.”

It’s a somewhat altered version of a poem by 19th century English poetess Christina Georgina Rossetti. To my child’s mind, it summarized the baffling and magical qualities of a world I knew very little about. But I knew the trees that lined my Queens, New York, street, that dropped bright green “helicopter” seed pods onto the sidewalk. Briskly twisting the stem of the double-paddled pod between thumb and index finger, you could toss it into the air where it came down with a fluttery spiral motion. If you peeled away one side of the green skin of each paddle, a sticky substance was exposed and you could stick the pod, one little green paddle on each side, to the tip of your nose.

The poem connected a sense of mystery with my everyday 5-year-old life. It promised that even when things happened with no visible, apparent reason (which happened a lot to me at that age), the gentle, comprehensible force of cause and effect was in fact in motion. Even today, I find that message reassuring when confronted by events, some personal and some distant, that my reasoning mind can make very little sense of. Somewhere underneath the hubbub, in the acts of courage, the sadness of loss, the warmth of love and the coldness of greed, blows a gentle, comprehensible breeze.

The underlying force of life is always moving to renew itself. It dries tears, allowing me to move past grief. It whispers of kinder, gentler ways when reason casts a cool shadow over possibilities. It casts unexpected seeds, twirling in their helicopter pods from an unseen heaven to land at my feet.

I’ve now seen so much more of the world, how the priorities of countless people grow into a bramble of conflicting goals and desires. How to lay the best plans and watch them go astray, first with indignation then with resignation and finally with the “hmmm” of an observing scientist. In young adulthood, I believed there was a solution to everything, a distinct and discoverable way of getting my arms around life experience and wrestling it to the ground. Only to discover that life will not be contained.

Some call it luck, some fortune, some chance. The inevitable influence of “quantity X”, of something unknown that can’t be directly observed but shows itself in the unexpected, delightful and tragic outcomes of human efforts. I think there’s something to be learned from the unseen forces of nature, human and otherwise. I’m slowly being convinced of the need to do my best without tying my happiness to things turning out as I think they should or want them to. This year for Lent I aspire to giving up disappointment. I’ll let the sleeping seed lie in the dark without trying to make it grow. I’ll let it be fed by melting snow, the same snow that got in my boots and hid days-worth of plastic-covered newspapers on the driveway. Once again, with only an inkling of how things work, I’ll be content to marvel at the unseen wind.

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