Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Writer's Spirit: Fir gives way to forsythia

I took my Christmas tree down Thursday. And yes, by “Thursday,” I mean three days ago—March 2, second day of Lent.

I had briefly considered replacing the Christmas ornaments with Easter eggs. I grew up in a place where people decorate the trees in their yard with eggs for the Easter holiday—a practice I understand to be somewhat regional and maybe a little odd to people from the outside. But let’s be honest; the Valentine tree never materialized, and the twin impulses that led me to keep the tree up (laziness and busyness) kept me from cutting out hearts, pasting them to paper doilies, and re-decking the tree.

If there’s time to re-deck, there’s time to de-deck.

I’m a little torn as I analyze my tardy removal of the artificial tree. Is this a marker of mental health, or might it be a symbol or metaphor? Like everything we have a hand in, it’s probably both.

Truth is, I have all of the usual associations with the Christmas holiday. It represents family and childhood and promise. The tree sparkles. It’s lit. That wrapped gift could be the thing I’ve been waiting for. The few minutes we spend tearing into boxes could become my child’s favorite memory. It could happen.

And in fact it can happen. I think of that lovely monologue by Bill Murray as Frank Cross at the end of the movie Scrooged:

It can happen every day, you've just got to want that feeling. And if you like it and you want it, you'll get greedy for it! You'll want it every day of your life and it can happen to you. I believe in it now! I believe it's going to happen to me now! I'm ready for it! And it's great! It's a good feeling, it's really better than I've felt in a long time. I'm ready.

I guess I wanted that feeling. My friends know my situation; I don’t really have a regular workplace, and I’m a little isolated in the city where I live. I turn a lot of my attention toward home and family—well, toward family anyway. I’m always forced to take a triage approach to life, and housework consistently falls at the end of my list, as the Christmas tree probably hinted at.

Initially, the tree was beautiful. The cat liked to climb it. I liked to sit in the grace of its gentle colors at night when the rest of the room was dark. It served its actual purpose, which, I guess, is draping its bulk protectively over our gifts like a piny mother hen.

Even after Christmas—even a month or two months after Christmas—I enjoyed it, a fact which makes it far less depressing. I liked turning on those lights and sitting near it to read or write. I liked the rustle of the ginger tabby hidden inside. I even looked being able to throw a little clutter behind it when there was an unexpected knock at the door.

I would be perfectly happy to have a lighted tree in my house all the time, were it not for those sad Santa ornaments everywhere—the arboreal equivalent of green fuzz in the fridge, announcing its own outdatedness.

And I am prone to mild depression, which is lucky—I’ve had the serious kind, too, and I’ll take a case of the bluey-blues any day over the bedbound anguish of deeper sadness. It’s a more pleasing symbol of my inner state than a sweaty, rumpled bed.

But I’ve thought about it, and I don’t think it’s sadness that kept my tree up. I think I wanted the same thing that was desired by the first person to pull a fir tree into the house and append some candles to it.

Winter can be hard. Not even the sun can stick it out—and so there we are, a sweater not enough to keep out the cold, a lamp no substitute for the afternoon sun. A mild winter, the sort we just had where I live, is not much better; it lacks the grace of snow to cover our errors and muffle our noise. All it offers is the dark and chill.

But there are buds on the lilac bush outside my window, and a few daffodils have popped up in the lawn. A few days of fine weather—sunny weather, shorts weather—have broken through the gray scrim. They’ve made me brave. Forsythia is happening, and even when I’m in my home, it casts its own remembered light.


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