One of my fondest memories involves what I had understood “May Day” to be about as a grade-school-age little girl with terribly romantic notions about everything. My younger brother and I, along with one of the neighbor boys we’d corralled into helping us, wrapped flowers that we’d picked in cones of newspaper and left them on neighbor’s doorsteps. We would then ring the doorbell and scamper off to a hiding place from whence we’d sheltered ourselves on previous occasions of naughtiness, only this time it was to see the surprised and delighted expressions on the wrinkly, old faces.
We left the floral arrangements for a few neighbors, like the Stewart’s who owned the sports shop because Mr. Stewart fixed our flats and Mrs. Stewart baked, and, of course, our moms. The rest went to the old people in the neighborhood who, on every other day would be possible victims of our obnoxious ding dong ditching or loud and rambunctious kick-the-canning. This day was special. For us, it was a truce of sorts. Even the old lady living on the corner, who everyone was certain was a witch, received a conical of camellias. It was not comparable in gravity to the Christmas Truce of 1914 but it was similar, relatively speaking, considering we were wild things.
So today, nearly 40 years later, I noticed the date and basked in a moment of nostalgia. I was prompted to search out the history of the tradition and hoped to find some sort of similar activity going on with cute photos of young children. Oops! Instead, I found pages and pages of political protests and worker’s union riots, along with the accompanying violence from the state. And not just here in the US, but all over the world. Further down the page, there was also a reference to the international distress call for radio and telephone. How interesting that there are such conflicting associations with the first day of the fifth month.
Life was not so Rockwellesque or Mayberryish for my family. There was addiction, abuse, divorce, step-parents, more step-parents, economic difficulties, etc. But so it was with everyone else also. In addition, there was the Vietnam War, heat waves, gas shortages, and a major recession. There was no escaping hardship then and there isn’t now. But what there was then that there doesn’t seem to be much of a semblance of now is civility and sweetness.
There are still parades, apple pickings, derbies, and science fairs, but they are just not the same. Parades require gates for the on-lookers to stand behind and will soon involve some sort of anti-terrorist screening with bomb squads on hand; apple pickings no longer are prefaced with “Don’t eat too many apples because you will get a tummy ache” because the apples have all been sprayed and you cannot eat them until they’ve been cleaned of pesticides; and derbies and fairs have become a contest between parents, instead of the children, since no parent wants their kid to fail and see their success as a personal victory.
What has happened to us as a society? As a species? Because we are stewards of our children, our property, and our world, we need to get a grip. We are in distress and need to bail from this sinking ship. We must commit to doing it better. Rather than looking to government to implement the change that will create a more peaceful, romantic, abundant, and equatable life for all, we need to be the change we want to see in the world. Call a truce to the fighting, name-calling, blaming and bask in the pleasure of being human and capable of change and intention. Try giving someone a flower, literally or figuratively, and see the difference it can make.