Life Lessons from a Tree
The following was originally published in “The Good Life Men’s Magazine”
When my wife and I moved into our home nine years ago, I didn’t pay much attention to the tree out our front window. It was a modest tree at the time, relatively well-kept but more or less forgettable. To this day I haven’t even bothered to find out what type of tree it is. The fact that our neighborhood was well-established and had full-grown trees lining the streets was not an insignificant factor in our decision. But they’re just trees, right? So I thought.
As you get older, you start to notice things you’ve effortlessly overlooked in your haste to grow up, get a job, make some money, define yourself, start a family and rub all of your amazing success in your friends’ faces. The ol’ stop and smell the roses cliche is as enlightened as cliches get, but you don’t have time to look like an idiot staring at trees all day until your life slows down some… and enough people have figured out that you maybe are an idiot and won’t bother questioning it.
For me, it took quitting my job to become a stay-at-home parent who has the time to stare out his front window every day while doing the daddy slow dance to get his infant son to fall asleep. There was also a serendipitous bit of timing involved… though the dancing didn’t help dispel any idiot rumors.
When we made the decision to pull Macklin out of daycare, it was the beginning of the holiday season. Thanksgiving was about a week away, and the vibrant colors of summer had begun to fade. The trees were nearly bare. During the next several months, as I settled into life as a full-time dad, those overlooked life lessons started to present themselves on a more regular basis. And I had even more unhurried time in between loads of laundry, bottle feedings and diaper changes to finally pay attention. What a gift.
After a few months of only having one real obligation to attend to (my son), I started to pay more and more attention. The first signs of spring had started to appear. The snow began to melt. The sunshine began to linger a bit longer into the evening. And the trees began to bud. Our front tree, in particular.
The six or seven days of the year when the buds on that tree burst open to embrace the spring sun have become my favorite time of year. The combination of beauty and sweet perfume is so powerful, so overwhelming and so perfectly fleeting. It’s about the most perfect experience… if you’ve got the time to let it sink in.
Late one evening during this most recent spring, when our tree was in full bloom, a friend and I had the good fortune of having enough time to experience that near perfection together. I told him about how I’ve started to look at this tree as a metaphor for life as I’ve come to barely understand it.
Every year, year after year, the tree bursts into life with brilliant white flowers and the scent of spring. A short few days later, those white petals give way to the greens of new growth, followed not long after by a prolonged season of dark reds and purples before frost hits and everything lets go for winter. It’s the cyclical nature of life… but it took me years to catch on.
That tree is a mirror of our existence. For my existence as a parent, the seven-day bloom of beauty reminds me of the fleeting nature of childhood, that if I don’t pay attention, I’ll miss out on the purely innocent beauty of Mack’s early years. The green of new growth excites me about what’s ahead. And the deep reds and purples of enduring summer remind me of the challenges of really growing up, forcing me to consider the fact that I may have to just let go and trust that beauty will return again… post-teenage years, I’m guessing.
Zooming in for a close-up view on our current stage — potty training — we go through this cycle on a daily basis. Sometimes four or five times. Putting on that first pair of underwear in the morning is pure joy. The next hour or so is full of anticipation. Inevitably, we find ourselves cleaning up an accident… followed by the rush of a fresh start with a fresh pair (or entire outfit).
According to the highly educated member of the family, my wife, I’m just experiencing the world’s slowest mindfulness revelation. It took me nearly a decade to comprehend the impermanence of life… You know, what any Buddhist monk sitting criss-cross-applesauce gets his first half hour in. Oh well. I got here. And I have my family and our tree to thank for it. The simple truth is I’ve come to the realization that Mack is about to turn three, and I want to hold on to this beautiful full bloom as long as I can.