Personal/The Neighborhood Tree, published in the Op/Ed section of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, January 1, 2017
I know this much is true – someone, or a group of someones, individually or corporately decorated the lowest limbs of a winter-bare tree in my neighborhood during the week leading up to Christmas. It was a simple gesture that I choose to believe has profound implications. Here’s a bit of background:
I live in a Fort Worth neighborhood that is bordered on one side by a greenbelt shadowing the banks of the Trinity River. On any given day, a number of people walk, run and ride through it on their personal journeys toward wellness, relaxation, responsible pet ownership and myriad other reasons, I’m sure.
Our family dog Memphis and I are regular visitors to this park and have been for years. We like it mostly for the trees that grow tall and strong in the rich river bottom soil. They were one of the major attracting features of the neighborhood 25 years ago when, as newlyweds, my husband and I bought the lot where we eventually built our home. In fact, Memphis is the third golden retriever we’ve raised in that house, across the street from the park with all the trees that provide cooling shade in the summer, bright hues of red and gold in the fall and safe havens for squirrels that, in turn, have provided hours of entertainment for our dogs. I know the space well.Which is why this story struck me so. In all the years I’ve walked that pathway, not much has ever changed. But on an afternoon in early December, Memphis and I made our regular turn into the park and hanging there on the branch of a live oak was one shiny Christmas ornament. The sight of it caused me to stop and smile for just a moment with a “huh, that’s cool” type of reaction. On the next afternoon, in the same spot, there were two ornaments. “Now this is getting fun,” I thought to myself. But a few days later, the wind or passersby got the best of the kind gesture and left only glistening bits of broken glass on the sidewalk below. I thought nothing more, other than what a delightful random act that had been.
But random acts sometimes catch on and become deliberate deeds. A few weeks later, in the final days leading up to December 25, I noticed as I drove home late one afternoon that those two original ornaments had been replaced by almost a dozen glittery balls and one candy cane. These ornaments hung from the branches of a different host – a cedar elm in clear view of runners and cyclists and anyone driving by. These few naked boughs were now adorned like a naturalist’s centerpiece at a banquet for giants, greeting all who entered the neighborhood with a cheerful welcome. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any sweeter, on Christmas night, the limbs were lit with a single strand of white lights. Truly, a light in the darkness.
Personally, I am, as they say, “in a good place.” My marriage continues to enrich me deeply, my children are happy and healthy, I have a new career that shows promise and I live in a safe, peaceful area with nice neighbors. But I know many approached this holy season with hearts weighted by health concerns, job uncertainties, relationships at risk, and in mourning for those lost this year or elsewhere at this time. For those whose sadness is as constant as skin, I fervently hope they were as privileged as I to encounter a moment or two of whimsy that made them smile and appreciate beauty in an unexpected place – and that the memory of that very smile will become something they can relive at any moment in the coming year when a bit of whimsy is needed to fend off impending darkness.
As we approach Epiphany and consider new year’s resolutions, I will keep that decorated tree on the front of my consciousness as a reminder to remain optimistic in the midst of bleakness, to take joy in spreading anonymous cheer, to appreciate moments of unexpected sparkle and to act even when I can’t predict the final outcome.
Perhaps it’s because I’m now at that point in life where the days behind me are greater than the ones in front, or because 2016 has been filled with news stories that caused me to repeatedly notice the blessings showered on me, but those small ornaments spoke to me in quite positive tones. They reminded me of the final verses of the traditional carol I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day –
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."
Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.
May all of us carry our blessing to others in 2017.