Recently, I informed my children that some of their earlier nicknames were Ham and Chunk. At the time, it made perfect sense. The older one, starved for attention on the occasion of his brother’s birth, became fond of chewing the scenery. The little one, basking in his own babyhood, sported a decadent set of thighs among other baby fat.
The older one (early fans might remember him as Herr Meow) instantly approved of his nickname and, well, *understood* it.
Little Don Meow (man, I give strange nicknames and I’m sorry) was not nearly as amused. He pulled a face of disgust and demanded, “Because I was fat?” Apparently, no amount of reassurance that his thighs were the creamiest and most edible was enough to make him take to Chunk– especially in light of his lanky, bean-pole frame.
You win some, you lose some.
But why am I meditating on something silly like nicknames, you ask? Because it’s Sakura season and because I kind of loved the pun with hanami. These days, it’s all about the simple things, am I right? Because if we don’t laugh at least a little, we fall down like cherry blossom petals, turning gray in the curbs and the gutters.
It’s been fourteen years of hanami for us here in DC. Fourteen years of walking around in a living musical, watching the gorgeousness unfurl. Fourteen years of marveling, ridiculing and envying the faithful who make their hanami pilgrimage to the Tidal Basin– and a few years of actually joining them, marveling at the same process and the same beauty.
But of course, it’s never the same beauty.
Some days, the beauty is in shades of softest pink. A soft aroma that reminds me of the liner notes inside a cassette (remember those?) clings to the trees. The world beckons like a fluffy womb, like those movies from health in high school with the pink embryo with the alien eyes and its tiny fingers reaching toward the light.
Other days, the beauty is melancholy, gray and somber. The spring wind knocks the blossoms loose into the gutter, turning all that delicate hope into a muddy paste.
Hanami is the Japanese custom of coming out to see the blossoms. Every year, young and old congregate at parks all around the country to experience the beauty firsthand. Many families have big parties and they eat, drink and are merry. There is a proverb in Japanese, “Hana yori dango,” which translates to, “Dumplings before flowers.” It’s used to explain how for most people, what’s important is the pragmatic aspect of the holiday (THE FOOD), rather than the existential musings.
But you know, there is room for both.
We can marvel at the Ham and the Chunk in their little, creamy glory of yore– or in this updated version where the Ham is camera shy and the Chunk is a little hunched-over skinny minnie– and we can think of life, frozen in a second, thanks to technology. A distilled moment under the cherry blossoms.