The Philadelphia Flower Show was in full bloom this past week. And here, in the most strong contrast to that show's sumptuous displays, is Isaak Levitan's Dandelions. The stems have been casually placed in a half-glazed clay vase. Wouldn't they look silly in silver or crystal?
Americans spend huge money getting rid of dandelions in their quest for the perfectly manicured, weed-free lawn. Many of us will remember as children picking dandelions as a gift for mother. In my childhood home, they were put in a jelly jar or juice glass. Dandelions are a sure sign of Springs arrival.
Dandelion flowers are short-lived. Indeed, Levitan shows some of them drooping and others gone to seed. That transition can happen overnight: the flowers fade, then turn into a ball of fluffy seeds that fly away in a breeze or when we blow on them. Dandelions are the most un-obtrusive of native flowers and for their short shelf-life, reminders of how fleeting we are.
Levitan might understand this better than most, his parents having died within two years of each other when he was a teenager. Doesn't it seem the older we grow the more aware we are of how quickly time flies. The sand streaming through the hour glass seems to move most quickly as times up draws near.
"Well now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow, we are off to this or that town; we are going to spend a year there, trading, and making some money.' You never know what will happen tomorrow; you are no more than a mist that appears for a little while and then disappears!" James 4:13,14
Someone might say, "I don't need to be reminded of that." I'm not so sure - I'd suggest we do need to be reminded because we're dragged or pushed along speedily with countless obligations and distractions that can leave us exhausted functionaries. The Psalmist knows to ask:
"Let me know how fleeting my life is, so I may learn wisdom of heart." Psalm 39:4
Notice the verse says, "so I may learn wisdom of heart" not wisdom of mind. There's a difference. Wisdom of mind could mean that I would learn intellectual things well. But of heart means that I would learn compassion: Let me remember that my life is fleeting so I might learn compassion.
Compassion is the ability to feel with living beings wherever they suffer. Compassion wishes for all to enjoy happiness, it feels concern for others and cherishes their well-being.
Levitan, who knew poverty and sickness, and who died just a few days short of his fortieth birthday, and left more than a thousand paintings and sketches in his studio, seems to have known that we don't have forever. I'd stretch that thought a bit: We don't have forever to learn compassion and loving kindness.