The Last Day of April

April 30, 2023

On this last day of the month, let me start with a caveat:  I love April.  It is the month of my birth and the birth of several people I love.  April often gives us our first glimpse of spring and our first sounds of Alleluia. 

But April is also full of contradictions: teasing sun and drenching rain; “shorts” weather one day, mufflers the next; a large measure of Easters, but a heavy dose of Good Fridays.

In other words, April – like its cousin October – is most perfectly reflective of our rollercoaster lives. And that reflection mirrors, not exactly a sadness, but a certain purple wistfulness inherent in all of life. Catherine McAuley described it this way: 

This mingling is something we balance within ourselves every day of our lives, but maybe especially in April, as the great poet T.S. Eliot notes:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

So what do we do with April’s “cruelty” which might be defined as that tinge of melancholy lurking even in the greatest joy? 

Rather than push it down or turn away from it (which I think most of us try to), there is a gift in prayerfully breaking open that languor, like an egg shell holding life’s fragile and surprising transformation. 

For example, we might place before God in prayer these “cruelties” which carry both joys and sorrows:

  • Change which, in any form, requires a shifting from the comforts that have secured us
  • Loss that comes in the shape of missed opportunities, lapsed friendships, harbored unforgiveness, wrong choices and a hundred other “wish I could do over”s
  • Aging which, though a blessing when considering the alternative, brings a slow reckoning with our vulnerabilities
  • Bereavement, that terrible forest of loving memories and winding sadness where we feel lost as we long for healing

The poet Phillis Levin captures the power of such reflection in her beautiful poem. It’s a sad poem, but articulating it gave the poet an emotional release that carried healing :

Under a cherry tree
I found a robin’s egg,
broken, but not shattered.
I had been thinking of you,
and was kneeling in the grass
among fallen blossoms
when I saw it: a blue scrap,
a delicate toy, as light
as confetti
It didn’t seem real,
but nature will do such things
from time to time.
I looked inside:
it was glistening, hollow,
a perfect shell
except for the missing crown,
which made it possible
to look inside.
What had been there
is gone now
and lives in my heart
where, periodically,
it opens up its wings,
tearing me apart.

As we move into the bright light of May then summer, it’s important not to neglect that shadowed strain running through and binding all human experience. When we, like Catherine McAuley, find it rising to the surface of our lives, we too must reflectively pray it into God’s heart so that we can find its healing power and peace.

Music: The Last Day of April – Ann Sweeten

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