Spring is an Apt Time to Reflect on MS and Hope
T.S. Eliot’s opens his masterwork The Waste Land with four stunning lines of verse:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
It seems odd to say that April is cruel. It’s the month of showers that bring May flowers, the time when temperatures begin to rise, and the earth stretches and yawns after a long winter’s nap. Things are coming to life again, and all is green and growing.
But for Eliot, this beauty is painful because it’s temporary. It cannot last because spring gives way to glorious summer, only to be overtaken by the sadder seasons of fall and winter. It is better in his mind to remain hidden under “forgetful snow,” and spare oneself the agony of going through the entire painful process time and again.
As a multiple sclerosis patient, I can see the logic in Eliot’s assertion. After all, spring and summer bring warmer temperatures, and if there’s one thing most MS patients can agree on, it’s that heat is a problem. Many of us experience increased fatigue, brain fog, vision problems, or issues with balance. A little sunshine and some jaunty yellow daffodils hardly seem worth all that drama.
However, though April brings its share of struggles, I have to admit I look forward to it. The beginning of spring reminds me to hope, and gives me cause to expect great things. After all, what could be more miraculous than life bounding back? These thirty days encourage me to look around and take stock of things, to once again be grateful for the world around me. It also happens to be my birth month, and at its end, I celebrate another year on this planet by marking victories and making plans for the one to come.
When April comes knocking, I spend time on the back porch, not just cooped up in my bedroom or library. I speak with neighbors until the sun slips down behind our houses, and sit and chat with other parents at my sons’ baseball games. April reminds me that I’m human—not just a person with MS—and that there’s a big world out there in which to partake. Because of multiple sclerosis, I likely will never hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, but that’s no reason to give up on the journey altogether.
I can do without a lot of things, but hope isn’t one of them. So, yes, April comes with its cruelties, as Eliot might say, but it comes bearing small mercies as well. So, like Alexander Pope suggests in An Essay on Man, I will continue to look eagerly forward to each year’s rebirth and—even more importantly—the great and final one that is to come.
In the first epistle, Pope writes:
Hope humbly then; with trembling pinions soar;
Wait the great teacher Death; and God adore!
What future bliss, he gives not thee to know,
But gives that hope to be thy blessing now.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
Let’s focus not on what April takes away, but instead on what it provides. May we not bemoan the activities we’re denied, but instead look for new ones. And in doing so, the cruelty will become a kind of blessing because it keeps us searching for what could be, rather than settle for what is.
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