Thoughts on Blooming Out of Season

I hate winter. Grey. Cold. Cloudy. Sunless.

I may have never been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I’m sure that I suffer from it. It would be perfectly fine with me if I could just hibernate all winter and wake up about March 21. To document the misery, lists Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as THE CLOUDIEST CITY in the United States, averaging 2021 hours of sunlight per year. 77% cloudy. Who knew? I thought surely Portland had us in the cloudy department; after all, Portland is known for rainy weather. According to the WorldAtlas, western PA is so cloudy (especially in winter) because the Northern Jetstream likes to hang out here.

So, I guess I’m whining. The sun was out for a few hours today, and I put my flowering azalea outside to drink in some weak Western PA January sun.

Yes, it’s blooming. Spectacularly.

In January.

I bought it late (straight from Home Depot’s half-price sale in September) to be a large potted plant outside the front door by our newly paved walk. The plan for its life in winter was vague; it was really just meant to replace the recently deceased avocado tree that I grew from seed. But that’s another story (and very indicative of my ups and downs with potted plants).

This Rhododendron ‘Conlep’ did fine all through the autumn. It’s name is Autumn Twist, after all. Mild frosts didn’t seem to bother it, but overnight one early December morning, the deer had chewed off the ends of every tender little branch.

Enraged, I brought it into the mudroom and put it by the window. I hoped it would get enough light, and I moved it back and forth between inside and outside for a few days, until the frigid 20 below Arctic blast descended around Christmas time. The wood stove was going full blast in December, and I think it must have thought spring was here when it felt the heat of the wood stove. Because a few days after Christmas, I noticed the buds. And just a few days later, there were more buds. It’s spindly; it’s been losing leaves, but oh, when those buds opened…

When I sat down to write this post, I realized that only recently I also wrote about lilacs blooming in September, and another winter post celebrated dandelions blooming in winter. I might be fixated on blooming out of season, but here’s the thing: if flowers can bloom when they aren’t supposed to, then people can thrive under cloudy, sub-optimal conditions too. I’m trying to keep this in my thoughts…

I wrote this verse from Ecclesiastes on my kitchen blackboard the other day to remind me that there are seasons for busy-ness, seasons for quiet, seasons for celebrating, seasons for grief and lamenting. It seems to me good and right, that after the busy, celebratory season of Christmas, is January, a time for quiet, a time for lament.

No one enjoys suffering, yet we all know that when the season of suffering is done, we can look back and see. See with new eyes what that time of suffering did for us. Perhaps it brought us new compassion, a renewed relationship, a different perspective, greater faith.

Even if one isn’t suffering or grieving, we should know that we aren’t supposed to bloom 365 days of the year. The cycles of the seasons–fluctuating light, different temperatures and humidity–affect us all, plants, animals, and humans. God has made us to need rest and quiet; January is a perfect time for rest and quiet and meditation. Even my reblooming azalea needs a time of dormancy to recharge and revitalize.

I worry now that this lovely azalea has been thrown off her natural cycle of blooming in the spring. When the showy flowers fade, what will happen to her overall health and spindly deer-chewed branches. If I fertilize her now, in what should be her dormant season, will the leaves fill out again or do they need that bright spring light for new growth?

I think this is what has happened to our modern world. We live in a time of 24 hour lights, all season heat and AC, waking in the dark, not going to bed until late. Even now I am typing this at 10:13 p.m. and most every light in the house is on. Excuse me while I go turn some of them off…

We have become modern humans, forgetting our place in the natural world. It’s January in the Northern Hemisphere: we should be slowing down, recharging, resting, sleeping. Reading, praying, meditating… Not sapping our energies with dazzling out-of-season blooms.

It is glorious when it happens, though, isn’t it?

Yinz, y’all, or ye? Yes

The English language is frustrating at times; often, in fact. Can you imagine trying to learn it as a second language?

That you up there? It’s a plural meant to include everyone who is trying to learn to speak English. Although in this case, it might be easier than usual because you can just use you for singular, for plural, for gender neutral, maybe even chop it up and put in your word salad or your soup. (Alphabet, of course….) It’s an all purpose word used for all purposes.

The problem comes when the writer or speaker wants specificity, or at the very least, wants to be clear. Is it you alone or is it you everybody? This is why regional versions like you all, y’all, you’uns, yinz, you’se, or you guys came into existence.

CC BY-SA 2.0 File:Yinz Are Welcome.jpg Created: 2011-10-18

You’uns is derived from the Scottish you ones and is popular in Appalachia where many Scots settled. In Pittsburghese it’s been shortened even further to yinz, and people from the Burgh take pride in calling themselves Yinzers. (On occasion, I’ve heard yinz guys, which certainly ruins the shorthand of it.) There is a store in the Strip District called Yinzers in the Burgh (where yinz can get your black and gold apparel; there’s a Yinzers Barbecue; a Yinzer Pale Ale at the Brew Dog Brewery; and there’s even a Yinzers Bar in Alabama! Where yinz can hang out with y’all

Y’all and You all seem self-explanatory, but actually the phrases are derived from Irish Gaelic ye aw.

And you’se? Well, add an ‘s and get a plural, right? (Argh! Perhaps there is a post on wrong usage’s of apostrophe’s on the horizon’s…) Although, to be fair, I’ve also seen it written youse. (Rhymes with mouse?)

Overwhelmingly, most American English speakers pluralize the you with you guys. (42.53% of the country according to a dialect study done in 2003.) The Urban Dictionary suggests its popularity comes from the egalitarian, non-pretentious American vibe which stretches across ethnicity, geography, and class. But, it also suggests that there is growing unease with the term, because it refers to everyone in male terminology, no matter how casually it is used.

I admit I used to say you guys–but after getting to a certain age, it seems well, kind of like saying Dude. Which is another male usage for generic people that we won’t bother with here.

The problem is that none of these plural you’s are considered standard or formal English. It doesn’t matter so much in written words for one can always avoid the word you and manage to sound intelligent (or pompous); but in dialogue and speech, it is certainly troublesome. When seated at a crowded dinner table and one asks, Would you pass me the turkey? one might get several hands attempting to pass you the big bird. Better yet, ask, Will you please get me a glass of wine? and one might be served several glasses…

This irritation/rumination began on Sunday in church as we were singing our closing hymn. The song was an old fashioned one with plenty of words like Thee, Thou, and Thy in it. Those aren’t usually my favorites, but I liked this one (My Jesus, I Love Thee) and then I wondered how those Olde English speakers knew when to use Thee and when to use Thou (except when writing for rhyming purposes, of course). I thought surely, of all those thee, thou, thy and thine words, there must be a plural…

Turns out, Ye Olde Plural is yep, ye guessed it, Ye.

Ye is a second-person, plural, personal pronoun, spelled in Old English as “ge”. In Middle English and early Early Modern English, it was used as a both informal second-person plural and formal honorific, to address a group of equals or superiors or a single superior.–Wikipedia

So why did a perfectly good, short little word that had an IMPORTANT duty, disappear? I’m sure ye want to know.

There are as many theories as there are people writing about it.

  1. It was a class issue–superiors, equals, workers, the industrial revolution, and all that…
  2. It was a political issue–England vs. France, tu ne sais pas?
  3. It was a religious issue–thou was singular, ye was plural, but how does one address a trinitarian God?
  4. The modern printing press, developed in Germany, did not have the letter þ (which ge began with), and so printers substituted a y, which was the letter used in the word the (like Ye Olde Shoppe), which consequently confused me, you, and you’uns.
  5. It was Shakespeare’s fault.
  6. It was the American’s fault. Which brings us back to numbers 1, 2, & 3…

I was trying to write conclusively about this for you all, (this is and has always been my plural you of choice) but honestly, half way in, I got bored and confused with all the possible explanations, olde pronunciations, and anachronistic socio-cultural idioms. You’se might want to read this article from the New York Times, if y’all are really interested.

Can I just go on record to say that American English desperately needs to have a plural you? One that doesn’t sound as if you’uns just jumped off the farm wagon, you’se aren’t mafia hit men hit people, y’all aren’t just from Miss’ippi, and you guys aren’t just hangin’ on the corner somewhere lookin’ for trouble… It’s actually all these regional English speakers who have come up with answers to this unwieldy problem.

I’m not ready to go back to thee or thy, and ye has been recently usurped by someone we don’t necessarily want to emulate; þe (pronounced ge) would require a redo of all our keyboards; the olde Gaelic ye aw sounds like we’re all horses; surely some of you lot can think of a nice easy word to resolve this terrible crisis of American speech? In the meantime, would you get me a glass of whine wine?

Favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis (Nov. 29, 1898-Nov. 22, 1963)

C.S. Lewis died on the same day that President John F. Kennedy was shot, so the news of his death was overshadowed, at least in the U.S.

Yet I owe my faith to this prolific faith-filled author. Years after Lewis’ Mere Christianity was published, I can credit that book with allowing me to step out of smug intellectual agnosticism and stoop into the humble love of Jesus. Literally.

I was seeing a counselor. She had given me several books to read, and being a good patient (and a librarian) I had read them all and we had had many good discussions on them. Then she told me I should read Mere Christianity. Uhm…Maybe, I said, uninterested. I’d been on the opposite side of Christians trying to convert me for most of my forty-eight years, and I didn’t want to be part of their group.

Then one morning I was the first one at the public library where I worked. I flipped on the lights and stepped into the office and there on the floor was a copy of Mere Christianity. It had fallen from the desk of the employee who was responsible for readying books for the shelves. Her desk was always piled with books; I would never have noticed it if it hadn’t been on the floor right in front of my foot.

Have you noticed how God so often sends us books at just the right time? from Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis

Reluctantly I bent down and picked it up. I was still standing there looking at it when Jean walked through the door. It was her desk; I held up the book. “I’m supposed to read this book,” I said, “and it fell off your desk right in front of me.” She grinned. “Well just let me paste the pocket in it, and you can be the first one to check it out,” she said. True to her word, she handed it to me that day before she left.

In the next week, as I read through Lewis’ apologetic masterpiece, I was stunned by his way with words, his thought processes, his genius. By the time I had finished it, he had gently rid me of all my prejudices, my fears, my hesitations about Jesus. Two weeks later, I purchased my first Bible to read it and see for myself. In the following years, I read avidly other books by Lewis–everything from his fiction to his collected letters to his philosophically dense tomes.

So, yes, I have quite a few quotes. Allow me to share some. And please, if you have a favorite that isn’t here, share it with me in your comments.

Quotes from Mere Christianity:

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Nobody can always have devout feelings; and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about.

If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.

…this year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people.

Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning…

An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons–marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying that those things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive…

The instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred…

I am afraid the only $afe rule is to give more than we can $pare. If our giving habits do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too $mall.

Quotes from The Screwtape Letters:

When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.

Quotes from The Chronicles of Narnia:

But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairytales again. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. The Magician’s Nephew

A dozen different things that he might say flashed through Digory’s mind, but he had the sense to say nothing except the exact truth. The Magician’s Nephew

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.” Prince Caspian

He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one. The Horse and His Boy

Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country, but for most of us it is only an imaginary country. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Quotes from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis:

I have been feeling that very much lately: that cheerful insecurity is what Our Lord asks of us. Thus one comes, late and surprised, to the simplest and earliest Christian lessons!

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life–the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.

Quotes from The Weight of Glory:

For it is not so much of our time and so much of our attention that God demands; it is not even all our time and all our attention; it is ourselves.

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

…all of our natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the humblest, and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not.

Quotes from Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis:

As to wishing it had not happened, one can’t help momentary wishes: guilt begins only when one embraces them. You can’t help their knocking at the door, but one mustn’t ask them into lunch.

Don’t worry if your heart won’t respond; do the best you can. You are certainly under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, or you wouldn’t have come to where you now are: and the love that matters is His for you–yours for Him may at present exist only in the form of obedience. He will see to the rest.

Quotes from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer:

Don’t bother much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them; when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly ask to have them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens to you. What matters is your intentions and your behavior.

But the very last thing I want to do is to unsettle in the mind of any Christian, whatever his denomination, the concepts — for him traditional — by which he finds it profitable to represent to himself what is happening when he receives the bread and wine. I could wish that no definitions had ever been felt to be necessary; and, still more, that none had been allowed to make divisions between churches.

We say that we believe God to be omniscient; yet a great deal of prayer seems to consist of giving Him information.

Quotes from Surprised by Joy:

The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.

So today, I am saying thank you to a saint who went before. Thank you Mr. Lewis, for your words, your faith, your intellect, your humor, your letters, your humility. I think you have brought many thousands to a new faith, to a deeper faith, to Jesus. And we all are thankful.