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Two funerals and a tree

Decades ago, as a young working mother, I was always trying to cram 25 hours into every single day. I felt as if I was always shortchanging someone—a client, a colleague, my husband, or, most importantly, my kids. One morning as I was driving to preschool, my toddler daughter Anna suddenly squealed from her car seat behind me: “Mommy! It’s green day!”

Immediately my mind started racing. Had I forgotten it was St. Patrick’s Day? No, I was pretty sure we were in the month of April (although given the state of my stress, I could not have sworn to it). Was it Dr. Seuss Green Eggs and Ham day? Was that even a thing? Was it primary color day or some kind of Earth Day? What had I forgotten that the other moms—the ones whose daughters’ bows were always straight, who used cookie cutters to chisel clever sandwiches and who alphabetized their child’s bookshelf—would have remembered. Not even 8 am and I had already failed.

As I was mentally calculating my shortcomings, Anna called out to get my attention. “You know, Mommy, green day is when you wake up and God’s painted the world green.”

Oh, that.

Ever since that day, every spring we anticipate “Green Day”—when the trees and shrubbery magically bud, seemingly overnight. Each year I try to catch Mother Nature in the act, but to no avail. It makes me wonder if the element of surprise isn’t part of a grand plan. Perhaps the world coming alive in spring would warm our hearts less if we watched it in slow-mo.

And then there are years when it happens while we sleep—the transition from bleak limbs to green life—and yet it takes a few days for us to notice. Blinders prevent us from seeing the beauty right in front of us. It was that way with me this year.

A recent week was bookended by two funerals: the first a breathtakingly tragic loss of a life too young and the second, exactly one week and one hour later, a celebration of a long life lived abundantly. Sometime during the space of those seven days, while contemplating the shortness of life and the burden of grief, I noticed the world around me. The soaring oaks whose skeletal limbs only recently arched against the sky had sprouted lush leaves. Irises had emerged and tulips—those feisty flowers that are here and gone so soon—were already bidding me adieu.

Surely spring is one half beauty and one half perspective.

On the college campus where I work, there is a walkway that takes me to a side entrance of my building. Each day I trudge down this shady path that cuts through barren ground and winds alongside tree roots emerging through the dust. I think nothing of it—still scurrying, like the young mother of my past—hurrying from one task to another, taking mental stock of the work ahead of me.

I never look up.

That week I had a very long meeting in a conference room on the building’s top floor. Floor to ceiling windows are shielded by porous shades through which you can get only a glimpse of the world outside. As the meeting dragged on, I found myself wanting to push the wall switches to raise the shades and let in the light. When everyone else was gone, I stayed behind and did so. I gifted myself my own personal green day. It was as if I were suddenly able to exhale a breath I had been holding. I was instantly enchanted by the swaying branches of a luscious oak, easily 70 feet in the air. When I stepped closer to the window and peered down, I saw my sidewalk below. I had never noticed the majestic tree shading me; I had only seen its roots.

It’s all about perspective.

There are no words sufficient to console someone facing unthinkable grief, and there is no advice worth giving to a young mother who has too much on her plate. But when I draw a deep breath, when I force myself to take a moment, I do recognize the blessings behind every hectic moment of life. I’m thankful that every winter segues gracefully to spring, and that the natural world sometimes takes our breath away just when we need something to smile about. I’m grateful for green day and the children who teach us to notice.

Who remind us to look up.

3 thoughts on “Two funerals and a tree

    1. all the small things around which gave us great joy. Suddenly life would become peaceful, all noise recede and my lil one and I would be in a happy space for a few minutes.

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  1. Great post and thank you for the reminder to take notice of the things around me! I’m looking at that tree right now and enjoying the motion of the leaves in the wind. Beautiful!

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