Thursday, May 27, 2010

On Transplanting

You survey the landscape before you. A rush of thoughts and emotions briefly overcome you but are impeded by the enormity of the task ahead. And then you make the proverbial plunge and begin doing.

The shovel pierces the soil and quickly descends with muffled snaps as the foot drives it deeper into the ground to blade height. The boxes open and you begin to place your life collections in them. You methodically encircle the plant, creating a moat of sorts—not a divide to be bridged as by marauding forces attempting a storming of the citadel, but a divide of permanent separation. You pack and realize that the empty spaces of moats now become the constructed spaces of cardboard walls—and the effect of permanent separation is the same. The soil has been disturbed, though hopefully not the roots, and you lift the plant above the ground. Your roots have been disturbed, especially the more you lift yourself out of your habitat. Next, you go quickly about your business so as to minimize shock: dividing the plant by slicing through the roots, or moving the specimen entirely to a new space for aesthetic or pragmatic reasons, moving back home or re-arranging furniture in your new apartment, awaiting for your new life, your new schedule, to begin.

I haven’t the energy to veil the real subject matter of this entry, or write with wit or humor. The fact of the matter is that I am verklempt, and thus nearly paralyzed in several ways. After teaching at the University of Denver for 4 years, I moved to Delaware. This is the end of my 4th year at UD, and it corresponds to the graduation of “my” incoming class. “My class.” My groupies, as several colleagues and Viet have called them, are leaving. They have outgrown their spaces; their proverbial roots have absorbed every possible nutrient available to them in this academic environment, and thus yearn to spread further. Packing their boxes, donning their caps and gowns—well, these are their equivalent of transplantation.

Sure, the system is shocked. Even those with post-graduation plans report their angst and that ineffable feeling that comes with departing a life that they have created. And this is significant, as this university life is their first foray into adulthood: simultaneously, they are quasi-dependent (on parents and the structure of the university), and quasi-independent (making certain choices, learning to schedule and take control). There must be shock, as well as pride and happiness, and inevitable sadness.

Last night, I met several of my graduating seniors, my acquaintances and “becoming-friends,” and upon departing the gathering the sheer enormity of their departure struck me. Adam and Laura let me hang on for a little longer than usual. And then Laura advised me to spend time in the garden, which is what I did and plan on doing today (to transplant and tend). Work must wait until I recover from my own shock.

This year’s graduation also obtains particular poignancy on another level. I learned a few days ago of the sudden, tragic death of a beloved former student, Briana Conklin. I adored her, and will always adore her. She was brilliant—but never in a pedantic sort of way. Her witty, caustic sense of humor brought us closer together. She was just appointed District Attorney in Denver, and thus had a promising career ahead of her. Life happens to all of us—occasionally in unexpected ways. Death, insofar as it ends life, is very much a part of it (even if we insist on speaking of life and death in antonymic ways). Death may thus teach us the value of life, and may compel an appreciation (even for life’s vicissitudes) in unimaginable ways. But the cost of appreciation and the cost of care is the inflated sadness that results from passing, from transplantation. Yet I cannot imagine ever conserving appreciation to avoid the costs of my investments.

So I learn something from my own life. Transplanted specimens in the gardening world require extra care in the weeks after being severed from a prior life: extra water, extra nutrients, as much shelter from the harsher elements as possible. And so it is with people. Care rewards us in ways that always outstrip the investment. And we are all the better for it, even as we mourn our losses.

Yet mortality proves a Janus-faced gift: for at one almost inappreciable, unexpected moment somewhere in the depths of confronting the transience and fickleness of life, when sabi infuses our very Being, we apprehend both the magnitude of life and [passing], able to look ahead to the pregnant future, armed with the knowledge and the memories born from the past. This is wabi.

** In memory of Briana Conklin **

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