Blossoms and Brackets

March is confusing, boasting the onset of spring amidst weather upsets not unlike Syracuse heading to the Final Four. When I hailed the same home as the Orange, there were years it snowed in late April. I knew what to expect there. In Virginia, I need a jacket before work and windows down after it. March madness is full of upsets despite our efforts to predict when it’s best to start planting and store our winter clothes.

I made a bracket this year with the help of some student basketball enthusiasts, though I started alone thinking, “How hard can this be?” There are entire fields of research and production centered around numbers, statistics, and probabilities. Partner past performance analysis with the compare and contrast strategy, perhaps a Venn Diagram for each pairing, and I figured I had a strong system.

We make predictions constantly in English class, and ideas about what will happen differ invariably. Two teens can be given the same background information and predict contrasting outcomes. As a teacher, my role is to help them learn to identify relevant clues. A few of my boys did this in an entertaining role reversal for my March Madness bracket.

They questioned my choices, trying to understand why I had selected certain teams to win in each round. They sifted through the data and supplemented their own advice with a sufficient combination of reasoning, credibility, and emotional appeal to influence my decisions. The evidence of our intense studies in the art of persuasion delighted me.

I hope that my gardening predictions fare better than my bracket has. Breaking open the shed has two functions this time of year: attack the garden beds and switch out summer and winter clothes. Through the cold months, I long for the days I can take on anything in a sundress and flip flops. Nevertheless, on my last two visits to see Charming, jeans and a leather jacket weighed me down. It’s too soon to pack them away.

And it’s too soon to plant. There is still the possibility of a frost, and fledgling seeds might not withstand it. There are probably statistics and numbers to analyze, and there are certainly Venn Diagrams for flower options in store for me, but like March Madness, though there might be upsets – frosts, storms, droughts – I still sift through a mental bracket and make predictions. Regardless of outside counsel, I commit to certain outcomes.

Whether it’s a story, a game, a wardrobe, or a garden, making predictions involves an element of risk. Absent certainties and absolutes, I navigate my life journey in superlatives. What would be best or worst, greatest or least? I trudge through “supposed to”, “might”, “likely,” and “almost” at a slow pace, aware that the grass might not be greener on the other side after all, but hopeful for that oasis beyond the sandy rocks.

It might look like the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC did this past weekend, with thousands of Japanese trees at peak bloom framing the tidal basin. Charming said it would be beautiful. We layered up and faced the crowds, I with a face full of wonder and awe. On a Saturday in March, Charming took my hand on Ohio Drive along the Potomac and led me down the path to a real life fairy tale.

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I had never seen so many trees blooming in one place before! The Washington Monument, reflected in the water before us, seemed softer, more inspiring amidst the white and hues of pink. Fingers laced together, Charming and I wove through the multitude of people and blossoms, through Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr.’s memorial parks. We took pictures of the Capitol in the distance and snapped selfies in front of the Jefferson Memorial.

Hours passed like minutes. I had the strange sense that we were walking in an alternate reality, one where beauty and hope and possibilities incapacitate numbers, statistics, and probabilities. For an afternoon, there was no war on terrorism. There were no ex-husbands or ex-wives. There wasn’t even basketball.

The sun rose to the occasion, dismissing our jackets. We stopped for a few minutes to sit by the water with our legs dangling below us. My cheeks hurt from smiling so much, seemingly involuntary. It was just my body’s natural response to the environment. Beside me, surrounded by a spring’s blue sky and a sea of cherry blossoms, I saw Charming in a way I hadn’t before and might never again.

Because for that one afternoon, numbers and statistics and probabilities were suspended. They cannot permeate the blanket of blossoms. In a world that’s blue and white and pink, anything is possible.   I found myself envisioning being married beneath the cherry blossoms. My vivid imagination, undoubtedly the product of wild optimism and a lifetime love of literature, was activated in this alternate reality, my fairy tale in the Nation’s capital.

Without “supposed to”, “might”, “likely,” or “almost” cluttering my mind, I broke free of superlatives. What would be best or worst, greatest or least didn’t matter. Certainties and absolutes were made obsolete by the mere presence of hope. Though we would drive away from the fairy tale hours later and into the actual reality where Charming is a mental bracket laden with educated guesses at projected outcomes, in that moment, I saw him beneath the cherry blossoms with me.

And something inside me changed. We’ve been dating for half a year, and that was the first time I let myself picture us together in a story that gives us a happily ever after. High School Laura Joy would have been writing Charming love poems a month in. She was unconcerned with numbers or statistics then, but she grew up, and she stopped writing poetry.

The deeper into our fairy tale unit that my students and I get, the stronger my own belief grows that anything is possible. I teach my kids to make predictions, to dream and dare, to take risks. Yet, for my own life, I navigate strategically each crossroad. I analyze numbers and compare and contrast and evaluate data. Number crunching doesn’t inspire poetry.

Charming and I are in the March of our relationship, and it’s unpredictable at best. It’s full of potential, but it’s too soon to start planting promises. Would the upset choice be a tear-filled break-up or a cherry blossom wedding? When I made my March Madness bracket, I committed to certain outcomes. My predictions did not actually affect those outcomes. Choosing Kansas to win it all did not stop them from being eliminated in the fourth round. Fear that Kansas might not win did not stop me from envisioning them taking the championship.

Until this weekend, I kept my imagination at bay with Charming. Losing myself in a modern-day fairy tale awakened that inspired, youthful poet. I voluntarily cast aside all calculations and did something I hadn’t done in eight years. If dreaming about forever and always with Charming does not have any effect on the trajectory of our relationship, what’s the harm in a little imagination?

I let myself dream, and the divergent thoughts converged into a poem. All these years, I was creating my own writer’s block by suspending imagination in favor of bests and most likely’s. A writer’s story is limited only by her ability to imagine what’s beyond the sandy rocks, and after an afternoon in a cherry blossom oasis, where beauty and hope and possibilities incapacitate numbers, statistics, and probabilities, anything can happen.

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