Happy Birthday to the Buddha, to Billie Holiday, and to the Internet, and thanks to the Writer's Almanac for this Random Coinciday in the blog. The Buddha's actual birthday is not exactly known, and the date of its celebration varies in the world, according to the lunar cycle and the specific cultural customs, but today is the celebration of Buddha's birth in Japan.
In Japan, children will pour a sweet tea, traditionally made of hydrangea, over the heads of statues of the Buddha. This holiday, called Vesak or Vesakha, among other names, is a day of thanks and re-commitment to living a noble life. In the legends of the Buddha's life and death, this was a day of April showers leading to May flowers, in a sense, as the rain at the time of Buddha's birth caused all the flowers to bloom, and the weeping as the Buddha was dying caused him to remind his attendant Ananda not to sorrow at the disintegration of life but to remember the eternal truths.
Today's celebration in Japan seems especially poignant and horrific, as the local rain and local vegetation in some areas will be dangerous and not the life-giving nurture we want it to be for some time to come. A new commitment to a noble life is all the more urgent, and must result in action. It is a day of thanks in Japan; from afar, I thank the workers who are giving their noble lives to clean-up and repair.
Today's imaginary soundtrack is Lady in Satin, Billie Holiday's last album, her vibrant voice now more fragile but steeped in her life of dark struggle and deep emotion. I was moved to read of her generosity in a life of poverty; most of her earnings were sucked up by the unscrupulous, but she'd leave a plate of money on her table for out-of-work musicians, for food or cab fare.
It's William Wordsworth's birthday, too, and one of my favorite poems ever is his "Ode on Intimations of Immortality." He is also famous for his "Daffodils," now blooming. So, daffodils for Wordsworth, hydrangea for the Buddha, gardenias for Lady Day.
While you're on it, say happy birthday to the Internet, and be sure to thank Al Gore for inventing it.
"You must change your life," said Rilke. So that's what I keep doing. I worked as an actor and director in Chicago, wrote for an encyclopedia, edited two poetry journals, shelved and retrieved materials in several libraries, walked beans, and was an assistant professor of English. Now I serve as Poetry Editor and Editor at Large for Escape Into Life, an online arts magazine, write & edit as a freelancer, blog "eight days a week," study the random, tend perennials, and listen to birdsong.