Our theme for the month of February is “plants.”
I don’t know where you grew.
It might have been in the cool mountain forests near Sofia, Bulgaria. That city at least is where you were glued together, sewn into a tool of tone and melody. A city and a forest I’ve never visited but am, thanks to you, somehow inseparable from.
We’re all inseparable from everywhere, of course—that’s the point—but what other place’s work has been such a constant companion, such a frustrating friend? What other forest’s fruit do I carry into a restaurant to keep from the cold? What other tree has lived a second life with me in practice rooms and on concert stages, giving me a voice I trust more than my own?
I owe a debt to plenty of other plants: I consume them, admire them, breathe their breath, smile at the birds and squirrels they house. I owe a different debt to plants as a whole, plants as a biological kingdom, a category of creation, that I’ve been complicit in destroying. Too seldom do I pray the prayers of gratitude or confession they deserve.
But you demand from me a different prayer, a song I cannot sing without you. You had a life before I was born whose ebbs and flows are etched into your flesh. You spent decades drinking in sunlight, swishing in the wind. You grew the way trees have always grown, glorying in each new branch and stretching toward the sky to show them off.
(A small confession: I do not even know what you are. They make violins of spruce, maple, willow, and other woods, and I’m neither luthier nor botanist enough to know the difference.)
(Another confession: They often make a violin’s various parts—front, back, neck, scroll—from different woods. It’s unlikely there’s a single you at all. But I sing on.)
You, like trillions of other lifeforms who have crossed our path, did not know you’d be cut down. And unlike the animals, you had no way to see it coming. You—as far as we know—felt no fear.
You still feel no fear, even when I’m holding you in my anxious, clammy hands before the curtain rises. You are still everything you were then, everything I am not: rooted and sturdy and graceful nonetheless.
You sat in a closet for years while I lived with another. But it isn’t like that. We’re back together now and there’s no bitterness. This isn’t that kind of love.
But it is love, I think. The most strangely reciprocal kind of love, in which the work of your lifetime meets the work of mine.
When I was fifteen, I named you after your rebirthplace: Sofia. But also, like the good Sunday school kid I was, after σοφία, “wisdom.” Today I’d probably choose something less cringe, but we too have our pasts etched within us.
We too live anonymous lives of everyday glory and unpredictable length.
We too may keep singing even still.
Thank you for giving the earth’s strength to my frail song.
Josh Parks graduated from Calvin in 2018 with a BA in English literature and violin performance, and he completed an MA program in medieval studies at Western Michigan University in 2020. He is currently a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, which means his plans to be in school forever are working out well. When not writing, he can be found playing violin, drinking coffee, making excruciating puns, and trying to learn Old French.