This year, the tree we picked out looked fat and full. It was so tall we had to cut a few inches off the bottom, and even a little off the top. I made sure to fill the stand to the brim with water. A day later, sitting on the couch half-watching 90 Day Fiance, I heard the plinkety plink of a few needles falling. Then a few more. And each day it grew worse.

 

By Dana Gornall

I’ve been getting a real tree for Christmas for about 20 years now.

Growing up, I don’t remember getting real trees. My parents tell me we had one once, but they were too messy—too many needles all over the floor.

My children’s father grew up getting a real tree every year and so that’s what we did. He was usually partial to the Blue Spruces. Me, not knowing anything about getting a real tree, didn’t suggest otherwise. They also tended to be a little more affordable. But the needles did fall. They would push up into our socked feet, making us wince after stepping on them. They would show up in my hair, in the toilet, in the cracks of the driveway.

From December till Easter I would be cleaning up needles, and from Easter till sometime mid-summer I would be cleaning up Easter grass.

After my husband and I separated, I began picking out my own tree with the kids, and diverged from the Blue Spruce. I liked the smaller, softer needles. I found that they seemed to hold onto to their shape better, and in turn, hang onto their needles.

Until this year.

This year, the tree we picked out looked fat and full. It was so tall we had to cut a few inches off the bottom, and even a little off the top. I made sure to fill the stand to the brim with water. A day later, sitting on the couch half-watching 90 Day Fiance, I heard the plinkety plink of a few needles falling. Then a few more. And each day it grew worse.

If one of us simply brushed up against the tree, needles would rain down onto the floor. I kept watering it. I tried not to touch it, but every evening I would take the broom and sweep up the mess underneath the tree.

Finally, a couple days after Christmas, I knew it was time to take it down. As we removed the ornaments and the lights, needles would shower down, sounding like tiny pellets hitting the floor. When we were done, there was a massive pile of green pine crowning the stand.

I’m not sure how we ended up with such a tree. It just was. It looked healthy, it felt soft and pliable, but little by little each day it kept falling apart. As I swept up the remnants, I said aloud, “This has to be some kind of metaphor for 2021… or maybe even just the way life can be, and is right now.”

I’ve been on the earth for 49 spins now, and I am rounding toward 50. If there is anything I have learned, it’s that the unexpected happens—all of the time.

If there is anything that throws me off all of the time, it’s when the unexpected happens. But this year—this past year—has been a glaring example of that fact.

I’ve lost a few people this year, unexpectedly.

I’ve had to adapt to aging and ill parents, unexpectedly.

I’ve lost control of where my children go and what they do… actually expectedly, but still feeling as though I am blind-sided by it.

It’s cliche to say things like “Live as though you are dying.” To say you only live once (yolo!). To say, live each moment as if it were your last. All of these phrases are things you might see printed on a canvas or carved out in vinyl letters and adhered to the wall next to a Live, Laugh, Love sign. It’s something we all know—life can take a left turn when we aren’t looking.

Even Buddhism tells us this will happen.

Life is suffering, it tells us. Impermanence, letting go, don’t get attached and all that jazz. We know this like the backs of our hands. But it still feels like one of those dreams where you have a test in front of you that you didn’t study for.

But that’s part of our practice, isn’t it? We get reminded over and over again that what we hold to be solid and true is all really just a passing cloud that we can admire as we walk by.

Maybe next year I’ll get a better tree, or maybe I will just buy one of those pre-lit artificial ones that are most likely discounted now. Regardless, I will still know to prepare for the unexpected, that Murphy’s law remains true, and I will still feel as though the bottom is dropping out when it does. But I will sweep up the mess, I will pack away the things, and I will let go. Again and again.

 

Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Johnathon Lee

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