Sunday, April 26, 2009

Reconsider the Lilies

Well, what about the lilies, then ? Yes, yes, of course. They neither toil nor spin. Everyone knows that. Even at the farthest reaches of my strayings-from-the-fold this thought, in lean and troubled times, was a sustaining one. A crop of daylilies comes up in my yard, year after year, undaunted by my neglect. The bright orange bells are a challenge to the macrophotographer. They are, unlike flat faced compositae, all depth-of-field. And, even today, I revisit with embarrassment the day my ex-sister-in-law -- more of a globetrotting hippie freespirit than I could ever hope to be -- pinched off a daylily bud in a public garden in Vancouver and fed it to me.

My late Aunt, A. Sophie, once said to me, I hate lilies.

A. Sophie, I can see where you're coming from. I don't exactly hate lilies, but let's just say, I harbor a robust ambivalence toward them.

I bought a stargazer lily, once, at the grocery store. I wanted to photograph it as it bloomed. Well, the damned thing bloomed and bloomed and bloomed and would not die. Its cloying fumes filled the house until I felt as if we were living in a funeral parlor. Finally, choking on deathly sweetness, I snuffed it.

Now as you can imagine, Altar Guild + Easter = Lilies. Piles of them. Having gotten through Christmas and poinsettias dancing in my dreams like the swarms of brooms in Fantasia, I was more relaxed. We, the Guild, were a good crew, and together we would make it happen. The lilies -- Easter lilies, of course -- even came with their pollen-spewing anthers removed, and I, nascent churchwoman that I am, did not make a single castration joke.

The church looked, everyone agreed, very nice. Not all the jonquils opened in time for Sunday, despite S.'s delicate c-section of some of the buds, and one tulip did plummet from the pulpit during Rite I, but overall, the floral bits of Easter were a success. I, the Anglican Communion's most improbable altar-guild directress, heaved a gigantic sigh of relief.

It was a blissful, luxuriant, even voluptuous sigh. Followed, as such sighs often are, with a cold, sober realization: that even after plants had gone home with the Sunday School kids and parishioners and had been brought to the homebound, there would be a jungle of remaining foliage. Sagging foliage. Decaying foliage. Subverting the easter message even as it was still being preached.

The lilies, no surprise, were the hardiest. True, I had to pinch off some browning bells before Easter II, but the altar looked almost as nice as it had the week before. The daffodils and the tulips were another story. I propped them in the windows of the church hall and hoped they wouldn't look too depressing before I could figure out what to do with them. Someone had alluded to bulbs. Something about basements and paper bags. I emailed the gardener-in-chief.

Well, yes, we could save the bulbs, but the best thing would be to plant them !

Even the lilies ?


So, bright and early Saturday, my black thumb and I drove to the church, and together with Gardener-in-Chief, we planted a dozen and a half lilies in the circular bed around the church sign, and one in front of the memorial statue of Saint Francis . The lilies looked splendid among the daffodils and tulips.

And I had never noticed the two ceramic bunnies under the boughs beside St. Francis until I knelt in front of him to plant his lily.

We stashed the tulips and daffodils behind a stone buttress, congratulated ourselves, and called it a day.

Fast forward to Sunday, today. As there was to be a baptism, there would have to be an aspergillum. I headed out to snip some greenery from the bushes near St. Francis and recoiled in shock: his lily was gone.

There was the hole, but no lily. I looked over at the circular flower bed -- half of those lilies were gone, too, and the ground was cratered with holes.

Some tulips lay on their sides as if grieving, and the remaining lilies had aged visibly overnight.

Other tulips had been plucked and thrown into the lawn, and some daffodils were snipped at the base.

In fact, a pair of red-handled scissors, a clue perhaps, lay spread-eagled amidst the shorn flowers as if the thief, caught in the act, had fled and left them behind.

And, to add insult to injury, there was a plastic Hannaford's shopping bag lying in the flower bed by the walk. I went over to retrieve it and, to my surprise, it contained an uprooted lily and a pansy in a dirty pot. There had been, I was told, a massive theft of unplanted pansies the week before. Did the pansy thief, seized by guilt, attempt to return the goods, only to find an even more tempting array of pinchable blooms, and to fall even more deeply into sin ?

I picked up the bag. It was another clue. The lily thief, owner of red-handled scissors, had shopped at Hannaford's -- along with thousands of other residents of the city. It was a strange case. Troubling. Odd. It cried out for a seasoned detective -- Sherlock Holmes, Dick Tracy, Inspector Clouseau, Mike Hammer, Nancy Drew, or even Mma Precious Ramotswe and her incomparable, bespectacled assistant Mma Grace Makutsi. Unfortunately, it had only me, improbable altar guild directress and even more improbable gardener, standing there in the hot morning sunshine, standing there holding the bag.

If there was to be no empiric/historic resolution to the Case of the Purloined Lilies, surely there could be a symbolic/theological one -- floral emblems of resurrection, buried. To be resurrected next spring. But now what ? Empty holes ! Empty tombs ? And One, the Deracinated One, returned -- returned to what end ? So Improbable Directress could replant it this afternoon ? I was beginning to feel sorry for the lilies, to regret my scorn. For, after all, they're famous for their non-toiling and non-spinning and Solomonic splendour, but, as the rest of the passage points out, they are alive today and tomorrow thrown into the oven. I was having no success at getting my story to conform to the Easter story. Maybe it was just a sordid little urban tale of petty theft, pointless vandalism, or ecclesiastic revenge, or even of someone's desire for something bright and beautiful getting the best of them -- forgive them. They did not know what they were doing ! Plus, didn't thieves hang with Christ ? And didn't one thief, captivated by the bright and beautiful Saviour that hung beside him, earn a place with Christ in Paradise ?

Well, that would have to do for now. I brought my bag of clues inside and stashed it behind the trash pail in the sacristy. There was choir practice, a baptism, I was LEM and then had a LEM visit to make. The rest of my detecting would have to wait until later.

No comments: