Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's Tree Time!

It’s early morning, and I’m sitting in the quiet of my living room with a restful puppy (read 68-pound dog) at my feet, and I’m gazing wistfully at my Christmas tree. When I was a kid, my sisters and I called this Tree Time. It’s like meditation but with no spiritual significance or even Zen benefit. It’s just a matter of admiring the lights, the drape of the garland, the shadows reflected on the ceiling, the placement of favorite ornaments and rolling all of that into a sense of peace and calm. Well, I guess there is a little Zen to it after all.

As kids, we would turn off all the lights but the tree lights, lie on the floor and concentrate on the shadows, fixing our gaze so that the tree would be blurred, and the shapes it reflected on the walls and ceiling would be in focus. Or we would look through the tree from the ground up and let our imaginations soar with the world we could dream up—what miniature realities go on in those branches when we aren’t looking, we’d wonder.

I say “we” here, but it’s possible this was mostly me. My sisters were several years older and not as inclined to live in a parallel universe. But I find that as I age, my inclination to be drawn to the Christmas tree with all of its light-warping and secrets does not diminish. I once knew someone who felt the same about Tree Time, and as I searched for his name on this blog, I’m surprised I haven’t told you about this one Christmas already.

When Husband and I had been married just a couple of years, we bought a house with a business partner of sorts, a guy with a down payment but no monthly payment abilities, and we with no down payment but capable of paying monthly against a mortgage. The guy, Mike, lived in the basement apartment, and we took the small three-bedroom house above.

Things were going well when one evening Mike appeared at the door with his younger brother, Steve. Steve was a troubled soul who had run away from home at 15, and now at 17 or 18 had found himself homeless. They wondered if he could rent one of our spare bedrooms to him. We talked it over and decided the kid could stay with conditions—you know, the usual like no drinking or drugs, he had to clean up after himself and feed himself, and he had to go to school.

It would be an experiment with two 20-somethings sharing a space with a teenager with an attitude. This boy would lose jobs days after getting them just by mouthing off to the boss or by not showing up. He wracked up so many moving violations in his beat-up car that the police were regular visitors to our door, it seemed. One time, they even put him in jail because he hadn’t paid hundreds of dollars in fines, and we were his only call. I had to talk the officer into accepting our last $50 until payday just to keep Steve from spending the night in the cell—he was so scared!—and the officer took pity and let him out for nothing.

Well, Christmas time came, and we all had just a few dollars to spare. Husband and I bought a cheap live tree, and I set out to decorate it with homemade ornaments. Steve watched from a distance with not much input, as you might expect from a surly boy, but when I called it "finished" with no star to top it, he took charge. How could you not put a star on the top of the tree?! The boy was nonplussed. So, he gathered some ready supplies and sat at the table crafting a star until he achieved an absolute creation—cardboard wrapped with aluminum foil with curly-cues and spirals and shimmer. It was a sight, and we put it on the tree.

As if that weren’t surprise enough, Steve insisted we turn off all the other lights in the house and meditate on the tree for a while—Tree Time. So, we did just that, he stretched out on the couch, and I curled up in the rocking chair looking dreamily at this humble yet lofty creation. Husband walked in looking puzzled, and Steve said, “Tree Time.”

Tree Time is good for the soul—or the brain or the constitution or what have you. It’s a shame it only comes once a year.

By the way, Steve stayed with us for less than a year before moving on, to where I am not sure. The last I heard, he had checked himself into Bellevue. I have hoped that our generosity, kindness, patience, and even Tree Time might have helped ease his unsettled spirit if only for a little while.


dive said...

Hoorah for Tree Time!
Your tree never fails to delight, Robyn.
I had some Tree Time myself, this morning; out on a remote building site in the fog at minus three, all the trees were magically transformed by the ice into sparkly white sculptures.
I tried to take photos but the fog was so thick they came out blah, but at least it got half a dozen burly builders staring at the treetops like little kids.

savannah said...

what a perfect read for tonight, sugar! thank you for sharing this beautiful and hopeful story. xxoxoxox

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