The Wrens of May

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The Wrens of May

Every May first-week wrens twitter and flit in the trees around my house, announcing their presence and power among the sharp new leaves and cherry blossoms. They consider me an interloper in their commonwealth. They scold me when I sit on their lawn or trim their bushes, criticize the wrenhouses I put up, and chatter about the quality of bugs in the garden I tend.

"I've grown up with weapons ... I don't think it's the destruction -- it's the power you have control over. If you're perfect with it, there's going to be no-one who can stop you. . . . I just dread the day when I have to walk across campus in cammies and somebody says something wrong."

—Marine reservist, born 5/4/70 at the hospital. where Kent State students were taken. (Akron Beacon Journal Magazine 4/29/90)

Wrens have no career choices -- they grow up to be wrens, just like their parents. The hatchling wrens of 1970 are long gone, replaced by descendants who twitter, flit, and scold among old maples and new dogwood trees.

"I took the role [of U.S. Ambassador in a mock United Nations debate in high school] and we became the leaders of the free world. And we hammered everybody. Marine reservist (ibid.)

I will not hear them, but I know what the wrens of May will sing in 2070, and how they will dart among the cherry branches and feed on bugs and grubs.

"Personally, I think the way it [May4] was handled was very stupid. But I think the way the students handled it was stupid. And I think that what they were protesting was stupid. I have friends who are quote, Peace People. and when they talk about May 4th. I just laugh at them."

—Akron University student, also born 5/4/70 at same hospital (ibid.)

* * *

May mornings I work at my computer, looking out on greening maples and white dogwood. A ruby-glass lamp hanging over my desk illuminates a clutter of relics and remembrances of earth and water: a turtle carapace found in Towners Woods; the wishbone of a goose of Christmas Past; satin shells from a California beach; a rough square of sandstone showing a 45 million-year-old fish, diplomystus humilis, patiently fossilized from cells to silica over the eons; a piece of canine jaw-bone with ivory teeth. More treasures lie under glass in a wooden box -- a crow skull finely sculpted to define its two-lobe brain and support its long black beak, a mummified frog, a small bluish bird-egg, grape tendrils, and a tiny oak leaf, a lump of amethyst, a splinter of petrified wood, a dried spider, the papery bones of a mourning-dove, straw-flowers. On nearby shelves swamp-milkweed pods spill puffs of down onto a piece of rose-quartz, a cylindrical porcelain insulator, a rusted iron bell, a flat brook-stone with two holes, a green glass prism, a small box containing mute chips of brick from Buchenwald, a straggle of echinocystus lobata in a stoneware bottle, a beeswax candle grey with dust, and other artifacts of no discernible use or value. It pleases me to keep them, though I'm not sure why .... as markers of Life, perhaps, and her sisters, Time and Death

My fingers touch the keyboard and runes dance in orderly lines across the bright field of the monitor. My mind waits for the sense to form, eager, impatient, and peevish with delay: 'The seconds of my life tick away while the cursor ambles across the screen,' it tells me. 'Can't we just get on? How much time must I spend processing the past?'

* * *

After 36 years there has been some healing at Kent State, and some reconciliation between casualties of U.S. policy in Vietnam and the victims of petty political swaggering in Ohio. There are steps toward the invention of myths and stories that celebrate our human likenesses and common needs, and our interdependence one on another.

Yet I remain profoundly disturbed, and unmoved by ceremonies of commemoration and responsibility. In the midst of a new cruel war, with a nuclear holocaust looming over us, I still cannot answer the Why? questions. Why did the National Guard fire on unarmed students? Why did we let our President take us to war? Why do we kill one another?

On May 4th, 1990, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin spoke at the Cleveland City Club. He was witty and deft, full of wise quotes and neatly turned phrases. After years as a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ Humanitarian, as defender of the poor and leader of SANE/FREEZE, he had brought all these crusades together under the banner of Global Unity. "From now on," he declared, "the world must be managed as a whole." Disarmament, protection of the environment and economic justice must be directed toward all of humanity and all of the natural systems we live in, he said.

Fine stirring sentiments, especially when backed up by his catalog of human folly and frailty: nationalism usurping faith in God; 'waste, fraud and abuse' in the deployment of military power; the ineffectiveness of the U.N.; the potential 'Faustian compact' of genetic engineering; the way economic power was corrupting vision; how political power had degraded justice into law-and-order, and greed for energy had given us Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez oil-spill, and acid rain.

"Then," I asked Coffin in the Q & A that followed his speech, "To whom may we entrust the management of the whole world? to the U.N.? to the United States? to scientists? to multi-national corporations? to oil companies?" He didn't answer directly , but said we should be "as democratic as possible" in managing the world. "We have to be merciful," he concluded, "Because we live at everyone's mercy."

Caroline Arnold

Caroline Arnold retired in 1997 after 12 years on the staff of US Senator John Glenn. She previously served three terms on the Kent (Ohio) Board of Education. In retirement she is active with the Kent Environmental Council and sits on the board of Family & Community Services of Portage County. Her Letters From Washington has been published as an e-Book by the Knowledge Bank of the Ohio State University Library.  E-mail:

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