"April is the cruelest month," says T.S. Eliot at the beginning of "The Wasteland." But here in Northern California, after an uncommonly cold and rainy winter, I am opening my heart to popping flower buds and balmy days of spring. This brings to me thoughts of Easter. I have always marveled at its paradox: a time when, after a long death and gestation, new life springs up. With many vacations coming in Easter week, here are some tips for celebrating with your close friends and family.
1. Observe the Easter rituals.
As a kid, I always loved coloring and hiding Easter eggs. But as a teen, going to church, I began to wonder what in the world this all had to do with the rising of Christ's body from the dead. But, getting your dyes ready to stencil colorful patterns on the eggs, you are actually telling your kids, "This is a special time to find things that will begin to grow in your life. It's exciting and new for you!" I saw that the Easter egg hunt, in kids' language, is the rising of a new spirit in their lives, the coming of hope after a long sleep of the spirit. Try the hunt, even if there aren't any kids in your house. Take if from me -- my free range ducks lay eggs anywhere they want, and I have a hunt every day!
2. Tell stories of renewal.
Fairy tales of transformation, like the turning of a frog into a handsome prince, convey rebirth beautifully. Or in religions themselves, stories of rejuvenation coming out of ruin, like the Red Sea opening for Moses to lead his people to freedom or St. Francis' marvelous taming of the wolf of Gubio to become a friend and helper of the village, are perfect messengers for Easter. You may also find stories in the newspaper, like the one during the South Asian tsunami when the family dog rescued two small children from the raging waters. These all carry the message of hope and rejuvenation the season portends.
3. Emphasize nature walks and bird watching.
No matter where you are, the time of Easter brings birds never seen other times of the year. In our area, birds with bright yellow feathers and lovely calls, only here for these few days of the whole year, are present to the observant eye. Adults and kids alike can thrill to these exotic and charming visits. They carry a new loveliness that transfigures your landscape and life.
4. Plant some seeds, vines, or little trees.
My wife and I decided to live this adventure to the fullest. We planted new vintage roses that came in large plastic packaging. But why stop there? Rather than throwing away the plastic covering, we cut twigs off our favorite vines and put them in potting soil beneath the plastic, held in place by little bamboo poles. Watered every day in their sheltered environment, our little twigs are now sprouting new leaves. Many such experiments can show you that, yes, vigorous new life can spring from what seems death.
5. Put new life into relationships.
Several years ago I got a message on my machine. "Stephen, this is you sister. I know we have not talked in some years. But I want to take this time of the year to talk and find each other again." My name is not a common one, but I learned that the woman was the sister of another Stephen Ruppenthal. Looking to renew their bond after a long estrangement, she had found my number in the phonebook in search for her brother. It brought tears to my eyes, and I thought of the magic of Easter's rebirth in all things.
So whether it is with our kids, with plants, with nature, or in our relationships, let us all take time away from regular routines this time of year to renew ourselves and refresh others with hope that springs up after a long winter of doubt and darkness. Try any one of these five suggestions and awaken into the true essence of Easter: that the great teacher thought to be dead who rises into new life need not be other than us.