Does that star-spangled banner yet wave?

“Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

The first verse of our national anthem is a question. We almost never sing the other verses–honestly, they’re not nearly as inspired, and they’re more than a tad jingoistic. No loss. But the first verse is a question worth asking, every day.

I don’t mean to be unpatriotic, but I do mean to say say we should always check in, because the answer to the question “Are we free this morning?” is never guaranteed for anyone. It’s just as uncertain now as it was 200 years ago, when Francis Scott Key was stuck on a British ship the morning after the decisive Battle of Baltimore and couldn’t see what flag was flying over Fort McHenry.

This is why I still get teary-eyed at the anthem. I’m not childish enough to worship the flag or the various nationalist myths that surround this country’s founding or destiny, but I do appreciate how fragile and precious the right answer to that particular question is. And the answer can change at any time. It’s important to keep asking and working to make sure the answer is what we want.

Reflections after mugging

About a month ago, I had a really nice day. Er, well, I had a really nice day until I was assaulted by three men in an attempted robbery. I ran and I’m ok, just a couple bruises and a headache. Although, my glasses unfortunately didn’t survive. … Anyway, it was a really nice day and I took a picture of these tulips, below, in Mt. Vernon earlier that day.

I was lucky in a lot of ways, some in my control and some not.

More than anything, I think the incident speaks to the crucial value of being in shape if you can be. First, when one of them knocked against me, I kept my balance and didn’t go to the ground. It would have gone very differently if I’d gone to the ground. I remember vividly being aware (almost single-pointedly) of just “don’t fall don’t fall don’t fall”. … my takeaway is, those ballet classes and core exercises and yoga were a worthwhile investment of my time, and one I’ll continue making.

And second, I ran fast. I have no clue how I got through or what happened right before I bolted, but I bolted and didn’t look back for the next quarter mile. I rarely run because of an old injury, but I walk something like 10-15 miles a week, at a pretty brisk pace. Apparently that was enough, and I’m gonna keep that up, too.

But with that said, a lot wasn’t in my control.

I didn’t have direct control over the more-or-less reflexive things I did or didn’t do… I have very little training on how to handle fights, and somehow I made the (right) decision to run rather than lose a 3 vs 1 fight. Many people, I’m told, mess that decision up. I didn’t have any control over the fact that they didn’t have (or maybe chose not to use) any weapons. I didn’t have control over their apparent decision to stop chasing me. I didn’t have control over the location–it was a familiar street and area for me, and once I ran I had a plan within two seconds. I got lucky in all those ways.

But most importantly, I didn’t have control over bumping into three kids looking to mug passers-by. They were just out on the prowl. I’ve never had any trouble walking that particular street before, even at night… they were just there this time. There’s literally nothing I can do to eliminate the chance of random, absurd events like this happening, no matter how many street corners I avoid. In the past few days, among other emotions, I’ve honestly laughed a few times about how absurd & random the whole thing was.

We really don’t have control over much in life. I thought I’d accepted this already, but this took it to a new level. I’m sure I’ll be mulling over this new perspective on reality for a while, and I’m curious to see if I change anything about the way I live my life.

Hanami … sort of …

“In winter say the snow-bound, she shall come with the spring…”
-Kahlil Gibran

“…Why do the blossoms scatter
with such uneasy hearts?”
-Ki no Tomonori

“One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs…”
-Wallace Stevens

I’ve blogged previously about the cherry blossoms around Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin. Hanami is definitely in my Top 5 Annual Things I Look Forward To, and it’s become something of a clock for me, except that it ticks in deep time rather than by the minute. There are lots of cherry trees in Baltimore (where I now live), to be sure. I live a few blocks away from at least two small groves that I know of. I haven’t seen any as sublime or spectacular as the Tidal Basin, though.

Now that I live in Baltimore, about an hour’s train ride away, it’s more of a trip for me to go see there each year—and I usually make the effort get there. This year, though, it may not be worth the trip.

Unfortunately, this year, they started to blossom a bit early, and a seasonal frost has come along this week: snow, sleet, freezing, and basically all those wintry things that harm delicate plant parts, all literally days before the projected Peak Bloom. This year the blossom-viewing will probably not be so spectacular.

The experts say it’s not a total disaster yet, but a lot can still happen between now and the end of frost danger. I’m very sad about the whole thing. Earth is fragile systems, and this is one of my favorites.

Pictured, above & below: cherry blossoms in southwest Baltimore thawing after a mild blizzard.