Midwinter Blues



The great African American poet Langston Hughes had more than a few reflections on mortality in his prose and poetry.  Many months ago, I read his short little poem "Midwinter Blues," and it spoke to me, so I wrote it down. 

The way my head works is that I will keep all of these snippets of quotes, poems, song lyrics, and the like in a file that I peruse almost daily until I know what I need to write about them.  

Today was the day to reflect with Hughes on life and death and this amazing poem: 

Midwinter Blues 
I’m gonna buy me a rosebud
An’ plant it at my back door, 
Buy me a rosebud, 
Plant it at my back door, 
So when I’m dead they won’t need 
No flowers from the store. 

I have to say this is pretty much the perfect Lenten poem--especially for these early days in the season of Lent when Winter still might threaten a last-minute comeback. 

And it addresses one of the most important aspects of our Lenten journey---our confrontation with our own frailty and mortality. 

The speaker in this poem knows some things about life and death, and the way the world works.  First, he knows that death is inevitable, so there's no point in acting like you're going to live forever. 

Today is all you've got, the speaker infers.  You can crawl into a hole, put your head in the sand, or otherwise become overwhelmed by the impermanence of things, or you can do something else.   You can live in the moment. 

That leads to the next move, which is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to hope for the future in the face of our own uncertainty. 

The speaker decides that the best thing he can do to reconcile with the inevitability of death is to plant a rosebud.  This reminded me of the oft-repeated quote by the 16th-century Reformer Martin Luther, who once said: 
"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree."

Like Luther, the speaker in the poem refuses to let his mortality stand in the way of his hope.  He declares that he's going to "buy me a rosebud," and "plant it at my back door," which serves as a sign and symbol of resurrection.  

The speaker plants the rosebud in hopes that those who come after him will revel in their beauty, but also so they will have the memory of his life to comfort them.  

In his own way, he is looking after his friends and family, hoping that their lives will be full and free from worry.  He hopes that even as they clip roses for his funeral, they will see them as evidence of his presence in their lives---even though he is gone. 

Lent is a season full of returning.  

We return to the practices that sustained us in time of trial---prayer, spiritual practices, gathering, worship, and repentance.  And in our repentance, we return to the paths that guide us to our best and truest lives.  

And Lent is also a season of returning to the sure and certain knowledge that there is little in this life that is permanent, but what is good, beautiful, and true will last forever--no matter what form it takes. 

May it be so for you today and every day from this day. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen. 


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