A tale of two trees

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Christmas 2023 is in the books. Airport drop-offs are done, the leftovers in the fridge are shrinking, and we are praying on bended knee that our waistlines and bumpers will be doing the same just shortly.

“He gets hungry (from) eating.” Such was someone’s assessment about my brother during his adolescent, food-furnace phase. If you, too, have raised boys, you will “feel this deep” because it’s true.

For nearly two weeks, four sets of male teeth chewed happily through roast turkey and all the trimmings, turkey sandwiches, turkey casserole, pulled pork, homemade pizza, and everything else I set before them. Then one evening, they commandeered my kitchen for Taco Night. One hour and a bunch of shells and Velveeta sauce later, they were face first into their specialty–double-decker tacos. Olé!

It was partway through the family festivities that we began to notice something about the Christmas Tree of ‘23. It is here that I should note that to date, I have resisted my husband’s hints, suggestions, and murmured remarks about the convenience of artificial trees. “They don’t smell,” I opine.

“They don’t shed,” he retorts, and it’s there that the stalemate happens.

Suffice it to say, though, this was a real tree, chosen once more from our regular place. It was slightly smaller than the trees of Christmases past, but it was symmetrical and lovely. Even the teenager noticed.

“The tree is extra nice this year,” he’d say, strolling past on his way to the pantry. And then several days later, “That tree is really nice.”

At some point during the gift exchanges, the table games, and the endless movie parties, we realized that the loveliest fragrance was stealing through our home. As the days passed, it became more and more apparent and increasingly delightful. To our great surprise, we saw that it was coming from the dying tree. Which, it must be told, was still green.

As I marveled over this unusual phenomenon, I thought back to the Tree Disaster of 2020. That year, the tree that came home on the back of the red truck was huge. Enormous. A monster that filled the dining room and had us fighting through branches to reach the table. Every so often, my husband would shoot a Significant Look at the offspring who’d selected it. Then we’d play a few rounds of “Whose Fault Was It?” before fighting our way back through the forest.

Day by day, that giant tree got browner and browner. The merest passing touch or shifting of air currents sent needles cascading to the floor. By the time we removed all the lights and decorations, what remained was a bare, spindly frame of sticks. No greenery, no aroma, only death.

What the dying trees taught was twofold. They spoke to me, first, of death. It was, I saw, the dying process that revealed the quality and health of both trees. Even in death, the one was green and lovely, emitting a glorious aroma. There simply weren’t many needles to sweep up.

By contrast, the other one was ugly and dry with no pleasing aroma. It was prickly, and it hurt when we touched it. Not surprisingly, it left a mess behind to clean up.

The trees spoke to me of life, and for days I pondered the message. We know that we all shall die, and how will that look? I thought of those dying trees, and I thought that surely it is how we live that will determine how we die. We can finish our days here with green and lovely branches, emitting a fragrance that delights with no mess to clean up when we’re gone. That life is available, and we can choose it.

Conversely, we can spend our last days as that dry, ugly tree; prickly; causing hurt; leaving messes behind to clean up. This, too, is a choice—nay, a thousand choices, really, through the course of our ordinary lives, and the grand news is that we can change it.

As long as we are alive (I thought on this, too), we have the opportunity to change and to grow. We can lay aside old ways, habits, and patterns that aren’t serving us well, and we can start new things with new choices and new desires.

We can make amends. We can forgive. We can address our messes now, not leaving them behind. What a gift that would be for those around us.

In this time of uncertainty, confusion, and ever-changing headlines, it’s good to stop and reflect on what truly matters—our inner condition. We can control so little of what happens outwardly, but we have full control over what happens inwardly. It is what happens within the heart that determines how we live and how we will die one day.

In such a light, may God bless you, my fellow Americans. May you find the consolation, hope, peace, and joy that I have found in this, our God.

You can hear America’s small, caffeinated mom every week at 9:45 a.m. on 77 WABC’s Saturday Morning Radio Extravaganza with Bo Snerdley, aka James Golden. Tune in for a shot of humor, encouragement, and wisdom.

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