I went on a solitary hike for some exercise, during my single outing of the day, and went past a tree that has been an icon in my life for a long time.
It is an old, gnarly juniper on the top of a hill. People used to leave little toys at the base or festoon the branches with beads, holiday ornaments, and photos of loved ones—all relics of people not to be forgotten.
We’d hike up to the tree every Easter, a regular group of moms and kids, and the kids would run ahead to find the Easter eggs hidden there earlier that morning. When we got to the tree we’d have a picnic.
The tree is now dead. It’s standing, but it’s bare and the sharp branch shards poke up at the sky. I hadn’t hiked there on Easter in years. All the mementos were gone except one little ground marker for someone named Owen.
These days, I’m not handling the irrevocable changes happening in our world too well. All the daily death counts and the overall rise in global COVID-19 cases are taking a toll on me.
I’m not good at change in general. To me, change always signals loss. No matter how many positivity leaders and spiritual guides tell me change is an opportunity, there is always a deep, angry part of me yelling, “No, no, no! You can’t fool me! I will not be okay with things that are not okay.”
This part of me knows that all these positive people are never there when I feel the full devastation. Their comfort will mean nothing. No one can help me find a way out of sorrow and fear, even if they are sitting right there next to me. Empathy and palliative words don’t help—not in those awful moments. I am not built like those who skip along to their next exciting challenge and think of fear as a bit of adrenaline to get motivated.
At my core, I believe change is to be avoided.
This isn’t to say I haven’t figured out the hard stuff. This isn’t to say I haven’t met big challenges or made the tough changes, but I missed the memo that says life is about change and growth. That change is what makes life exciting.
Given my druthers, my life is about comfort, love, and beauty holding me like a quilt—also pillows, smiles, and flowers. And cake.
So, I stared at the stark, dead branches, sad that this sacred tree had died and its decorations had been stripped. Then the memories came. The running feet attached to kids who hated hiking, the thrilled faces finding a plastic, hollow egg filled with candy, those same faces trying to still be thrilled when they got one of the eggs with birdseed instead. Strawberries and mom’s-only champagne at the hilltop. It was good.
I remember now, staring at this tree, that I have had fun in my life. There have been good times, filling some (maybe even many) of my luminous life moments. These are what give me mental ballast to look again at the tree.
I can’t get a grip on the changes that are thrashing our ill world, but I can handle the fact that this tree has died. It’s right in front of me. The children are mostly grown and our little ritual is over. I can’t make the tree stay alive.
I am powerless in the face of this pandemic—my hands are tied when it comes to the incredible sadness I feel for our world and how it is changing—but I am still alive and I can remember that I have had good times. I can carry that calm like a quilt to look forward and to meet what is to come.
There really is nothing else to do.