Oh, Christmas Tree

Zen. Part of the name of this ongoing blog. It’s a school of Mahayana Buddhism that encourages enlightenment through intuition received from meditation. Meditation is achieved by being present in the moment while letting the mind wander in a way. I am no stranger to this concept.

Someone asked me not long ago how I come up with my ideas for writing. Trying to explain it was difficult. I threw out words such as “reflection” and “slivers,” but I’m sure it sounded like a kindergartener attempting to explain the premise of a movie he had recently seen.

The fact is, most of my writing comes to me while in a bastardized version of meditation. Late after work on weekend nights, after I’ve had a couple cocktails and step outside for a cigarette (therein lies the Vice)—or while driving without my daughter in the car, I’ll turn off the radio and just be present. Random thoughts flicker and float like snowflakes from flurries or embers from a fire. Many of them are nonsense, but a few slivers wedge themselves into my consciousness. They’re often unformed thoughts that I jot down in my notebook and they may stay there indefinitely. Others plant themselves and almost immediately bloom into something that touches my heart or makes me say, “huh.”

As I sit here writing this, I’m looking at the Christmas tree Madison and I put up last night. I’m home alone. The cats don’t count, and they’re utterly disinterested in the tree in a strange un-cat-like manner. I blame video games and social media for their behavior. They think they know it all. Typical teenagers.

But, I digress. The Christmas tree always relaxes me, much as it does so many other people. It is a symbol of the holiday season. A miniature version of the old adage that hard work pays off. No, I didn’t go all Clark Griswold and cut down my own. I leave that to my sister and brother-in-law. However, if you think taking a fake tree out of the box in which it has been crammed for most of a year and bending it back into something resembling a tree is easy, you are sorely mistaken. And the 3000-foot string of lights I got for it because I apparently write better than I read is not the easiest to wrap around when two cats are attacking the bulbs as they trail across the floor. I would say that my daughter helped, but Madison mostly just laughed at the cats. Until the ornaments.

Our tradition with the ornaments is no joke. Every year, we go together to pick out a new one. The chosen ornament will be inscribed with our signatures and the year we got it. The decision for the ornament requires careful thought. This is not kid’s stuff.

When the time for the ornament-placing comes, all the ornaments are laid out on the floor, with our personalized ones set aside in their own group. These go on first, so they can hold the most prominent places on the tree. Then go the bulbs. Then the others. We don’t talk much while we put them up. Zen and all that. Over the years, my daughter has taken more of a role in where to put them. If you are obsessive-compulsive, I do not suggest examining our tree. There’s a solid chance you’ll suffer a panic attack. But, to me, it is perfect.

Last night, after Madison had been asleep for a while, I was winding down for bed myself. I was finishing my drink and had turned off the television. The only light in the living room was from the tree. I sat back in my recliner and enjoyed its company. I was present in that moment. If I didn’t have a hint of a smile on my face, it was certainly in my soul.

Looking over the tree is akin to observing a quilt that was created over generations. A tapestry of ornaments that tell stories.

There are those we chose together, each with varying degrees of penmanship as the years rolled on. A big bulb from ’09 that shows a snowman Madison insisted was Frosty. The signatures were both written by me, because she hadn’t quite mastered writing her name at the age of three. A bulb with the Grinch from ’11—her name scribbled in her own hand with a lot of jagged swirls brought on by her newer talent and her lack of sizeable hand to hold the ornament still. Pinkie Pie from ’15 with her signature prettier than mine. The latest ornament that she picked yesterday is more adult. Blue with a white glitter winter wonderland encompassing it. Together, they all tell the story of a young child who has grown into a young lady. It’s intriguing how your heart can break and swell at the same time.

There are the other ornaments, of course. A stork carrying a baby in a pink blanket. Madison was given that by my oldest sister for her first Christmas. A painted E.T. that was given to me by my own aunt when I was four. A collection of beautifully-crafted ornaments from India given to us by my cousin when she lived there. A random piece of paper containing small shapes and designs drawn by the budding artist who shares my home, secured to a branch by a paperclip punched through it. And my favorite: A pink bulb with a tiny white handprint stuck to it, the fingers drawn on to look like snowmen—a present from when my daughter was in Kindergarten. The attached note says, “These aren’t just five snowmen, as anyone can see. I made them with my hand, which is part of me. Now each year when you trim the tree, you’ll look back and recall, Christmas of 2011, when my hand was just this small.”

And more. Quite a few more. We’ll need a bigger tree soon. But, for now, one side of my living room is lit up with light and magic and memories. This tree is my Christmas.

The holidays can be stressful. They are full of running around and expenses. Coming up with new places to hide that damn elf (and remembering to move him every night so your cover isn’t blown). Family we haven’t seen in nearly a year. Some we like. Some we may not. Extra cooking and colder nights.

But, if you haven’t put up your tree yet, I suggest you do it. Take your time. If you have children, have them help. The gift comes later when you’re alone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, plug in your tree. Put down your phone. Turn of the TV. Turn off the lights. Ease into that Christmas quilt and wrap yourself in the tapestry of memories. You’ll be happy you did.

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