Dancing with Daffodils
Daffodils are deceptive flowers. Often seen as a symbol of spring — a time of birth and renewal — the leaves and bulbs of these flowers are poisonous to the hapless cattle, goat, pig or cat that may ingest them. In May 2009, schoolchildren in Martlesham Heath fell ill after the bulb was added in a cookery class. It’s a sweet flower, but it reminds us that life is fragile.
If we record histories on the petals of flowers, we may talk about the Wars of Roses between the York and Lancaster Houses; the subversive sensual scenes of Georgia O’Keeffe; the shot that rang around the world in Flower Girl; the cherry blossoms donated as a symbol of friendship between United States and Japan. On a smaller scale, in my personal history, we may talk of the purple and yellow pansies outside my childhood home; the roses given to me almost every birthday in my adolescence; the pair of daisies which earned a second place finish in a photography contest; the sunflowers which framed the front table at my wedding.
To understand why the daffodil has significance in my life, you need to go back several years, to my first year of college and my first martial arts experience. There, I had a tough and ferocious instructor, who, despite his capacity for growling out commands, also showed immense compassion for his students and an appreciation of life. His love of daffodils belied his stoic exterior. Every March, when his birthday would come, we would give him daffodils — whether cut surreptitiously from the roadsides or purchased in a grocery store — and he would always embrace this gift.
And so, the daffodil became synonymous for his mentorship and moments of intense growth: as the best man at my wedding; as the caring man who pulled my dad aside to talk to him about the loss of my grandmother; as the party animal who made my first (and not last) caipirinha; as the mentor who first told me that failure did not need to bring shame; as the soldier who shed tears as we said goodbye before his first wartime deployment.
The daffodil was a reminder of not just spring, but of all the seasons of my life, where I learned what it was like to move through spring, summer, fall, and winter. As parts of me have died, other parts of me bloom, and still other parts of me lay dormant, waiting for the right moment.
I have seen daffodils this spring, as I do every spring. This year they are a familiar flower in an unfamiliar world. The daffodils in DC grow everywhere — surprising by the dozens or hundreds in neighborhood flowerbeds and highway greenways — seemingly overnight.
And every time I see daffodils, I wonder about my Sensei who is serving in Iraq, and if he has seen one flower this year, let alone a daffodil. And every time I see daffodils, I think of resilience — of new hope and cautious new beginnings. And every time I see daffodils, I think of how life and death are intimately connected, and that we cannot avoid either.
William Wordsworth captures the essence of the daffodil perfectly in his poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” the last stanza which reads:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
To which I would venture to add some lines of my own:
We dance, and dance, and dance with glee
Draped in sheets of foiled gold
And drunk with the nectar of ecstasy
That fills us with a delightful stutter
The daffodil is a faithful partner
Surviving the elements that tear us asunder