“Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.”
–Bruce Springsteen, “Atlantic City”
Have you noticed how green the hills across the water are? I take Mom to lunch on Wednesdays, and afterward this week we took a drive around the Bay Area, and everywhere we went the hills were bursting with new life – the deciduous oaks were budding out in brilliant vermillion, wildflowers crowded the edge of the road we took through the Berkeley Hills and fruit trees made blizzards of petals with every gust of wind.
I suppose it is deeply human to have a hard time seeing over the horizon of the present moment. Five years into the recent drought, it got hard to imagine that our streams would ever overflow again. The oaks got more twiggy and desiccated-looking every year; the reservoirs got more and more empty. It seemed that we would never see a truly wet winter again.
And, yet, in the space of five soggy months, the drought is now officially over, and every catchment and pond in California is bursting with freshly captured rain.
The last few days of sun and warmth have felt almost like a resurrection. We could celebrate, guilt-free, 10 days in a row of rainless skies. (According to the National Weather Service, the rainy season is going to make at an encore performance for much of next week, so savor this break while you can.)
Spring is a seasonal reminder to me of the absurdity of despair.
My late 20s were a difficult time in my life. I had a couple failed relationships, and there was a besetting existential angst that seemed to dog my every decision. I could not seem to find a good “fit” in life – there were a succession of jobs that didn’t work out, school held little interest for me.
And then, soon after my 30th birthday, everything in my life seemed to just fall into place. I started working at a publishing company in Berkeley, I got a decent apartment for $535 per month – that’s how long ago this was – and I suddenly settled into my own skin in a way that I could never manage before. I seemed to know and accept who I was, as I was.
I remember hiking one Saturday from my apartment in Rockridge up to the top of the Berkeley Hills, and standing on Grizzly Peak Boulevard and looking out across the bay at San Francisco glinting prettily in the summer sun, and feeling an almost overwhelming feeling of gratitude at being alive, and at having made it intact through the storms of my 20s.
America is going through a rough and disorderly patch right now, but I still have a deep hope in the resilience and goodness of my fellow citizens, and in the institutions that have survived far worse tests in the arc of our history.
Martin Luther King spoke of hope in his most famous speech:
“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
“I have a dream today!
“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification’ — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
“I have a dream today!
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.’”
Matt Talbot is a writer and poet, as well as an old Benicia hand.