Monday, December 7, 2009

Simple Pleasures and Small Sorrows


On Sunday, drove on down the Seward Highway to the awe inspiring Turnagain Pass to make our annual foray out into the woods to find and chop down a Christmas tree. We had decided that we needed to get a smaller tree this year. We recently had a new wood stove installed and didn’t feel that we had the space for our usual large tree. We were thinking 8 or 9 feet, compared to our usual 12-14 ft. Pickings seemed particularly slim, but eventually we found a tree that was not perfect, but definitely loveable. We have found in our years of hunting down a tree in the Alaska wilderness, that there is no such thing as a perfect tree, but every year, the lack of symmetry, the drooping of branches, and dropping of needles has never kept us from loving our tree and thinking that it is wonderful.

Everyone took a turn chopping, as usual. My efforts were particularly feeble, I must admit. Who knew that you need to actually aim? While my husband Mark is always the work horse of this family tradition, Tim is now old enough and big enough to take a large share of the actual labor of hauling the tree around, and I shouldered the small end for the last 200 ft. or so. Annie carried the axe back out, so we all contributed. Back at home, by the time Mark chopped the bottom 4 feet off of the tree and brought it in to the house, we found that it was the usual 12 ft or so! So much for getting the little one.


Tim, buried in the branches

We all love the process of putting up the Christmas tree and one of the best parts is getting out the ornaments. I’m sure that you also love opening the box of ornaments, lifting out various ones and reliving the memories and Christmases that goes along with each one. But, we are especially fortunate. Mark has inherited a collection of antique Christmas ornaments that has been passed down from his great uncle. They are kept in a specially designed wooden crate and I don’t exaggerate when I say that there are hundreds of them. Many of the ornaments are unique and beautiful, some are quirky, and some are down right ugly. They are all delightful and irreplaceable.

Our Christmas tree will never make the centerfold of House Beautiful. When we get our lights up and all that conglomeration of ornaments, it is downright gaudy. But, we just keep piling them all on. We love each one too much to leave it in the box for another year. And, we think that our tree is perfectly stunning. You know how some people have the ugliest dog in the world and they just can’t see it because they love him so darn much? Well, that’s how we are with our tree.

See how pretty it can be?

At bedtime, I couldn’t bear to turn the lights off on the tree after we had spent so much time getting it all together. I wanted to gaze at it on and on. So, Annie and I decided to camp out on the floor in front of it and leave the lights on all night. The fire in the wood stove was just dying down and Annie and I, tucked warmly into our sleeping bags, drifted off to sleep.

We were awoken a little past midnight by Mark calling down that the tree had fallen over. The sound had woken him while the two of us slept right through it. The tree had crashed onto the couch and the counter, missing the two of us, but breaking many of our beautiful (and did I mention, irreplaceable?) ornaments.

We immediately set about putting things back into a little bit of order and picking up as much glass as we could and simultaneously, I began letting go. Letting go of my attachment to these ornaments that we have come to love and that I just naturally assumed will be part of my Christmases for the rest of my life. I have spoken about non-attachment in a few of my other posts including the one about my perfect little teapot, but today I realize that I am still in the process of really understanding this concept.

As I picked up those shards of glass, I felt loss and disappointment, sadness and yes, grief. For, they would not be coming back. There was no putting them back together. There was no replacing them. But, instead of feeling all of those feelings, I set them aside. I set them aside in the name of my spirituality and the higher ideal of being unattached to material things. They were just things and I needed to let them go.

But all day today, I have known in my spirit that just letting them go was not all that I needed to do. I needed to be able to release them, yes. I needed to hold them in my open hands and let the universe carry them away, but at the very same time, I needed to feel myself loving them, missing them, grieving them.

The concept of unattachment has to do with feeling all of the beautiful and sacred feelings that we have toward something, those very feelings that make us want to cling and to never let it go, while at the same time saying, “I know that this little piece of the world was never really mine to keep.” It may seem like a subtle difference. But ultimately, it is the difference between denying my emotions and experiencing them. Feeling my grief is not an indication of my clinging, it is a manifestation of my loving.

On this Advent afternoon, as twilight approaches already at 2:30 pm, I am sure that it is part of my spiritual path to let a tear fall and to feel that ache in my chest for these little pieces of delight, these ornaments, that have decorated my Christmastime with happiness for these many years. I will miss them.



17 comments:

Nichol said...

Awe, Rebecca....this is a beautiful blog. Both the happiness and sorrow. I am sorry you lost your ornaments.
(((Rebecca)))

You did make me smile though...My blog that has been written but not posted today is about simple pleasures~
love you

The Pollinatrix said...

This post completely absorbed me, made me happy and then sad. I read the part about the ornaments breaking aloud to my oldest daughter, and actually teared up.

I love what you say about non-attachment here. "Feeling my grief is not an indication of my clinging, it is a manifestation of my loving." This is a wonderful wonderful line.

Jennifer said...

As I have grown to relate less to what I have outwardly and what is more important to me - the internal being that exists I find myself in need of taking the moment to FEEL around the situation and see its part in the whole. I find it much easier to release as I feel for the moment or moments I might need, but I know that it isn't the "thing" that I am feeling it is the deeper part that gives me the emotion which then leads me to treasure the gift of the next moment...the moment right now.

This is a a beautiful gift and moment I have shared reading this post today. Thank you.

Suz said...

Rebecca,
i get it. Here I sat lusting over your ornaments, feeling a little jealous that you had these lovelies...so much that I almost felt I owned them. The "crash" hit me right in the pit of my stomach,

I am so sorry. These gifts of age and memories mean so much...and yet...your family and your lovely times with them mean so much more.

Let yourself greive them. They represent some important things, but they are not those things.

Hugs,
Suz

lucy said...

i consider the timeliness of this little piece as last night i co-led a supervision group on the topic of grief - part of the process was to take pieces of broken glass and form them into a mosaic. while you might not want to attach to the broken ornaments in a new way, i could not help but see them re-ordered in a new form... isn't that what happens to us once we have been broken?

ditto from the others - this is a lovely post of delight, longing and loss. some of my favorite trees have been "charlie brown" ones! xoxo

Barbara said...

Non-attachment (or detachment, as I call it) does not mean you do not mourn the loss. The objects or even persons we lose are not bad in themselves, so it is natural to miss them when they are no longer with us. Honour your missing them with a ritual or making a mosaic, as lucy suggested. Be grateful for the joy they gave you and then you can let go.

Your ornaments in the picture remind me of those of my childhood. They are magical, aren't they? Lovely post, Rebecca.

Rebecca Johnson said...

Nichol, We aren't REALLY that far apart. Are we? Love you.

Rebecca Johnson said...

Hi Polli, Thank you so much for sharing a tear with me. It really does matter.

I really like that line as well. Isn't amazing when we are gifted with those sorts of insights. This one came to me in the car, one of my most consistent places for enlightenment. : )

Love...

Rebecca Johnson said...

Jennifer, I love this image of "feeling around" a situation. It is something that is becoming more of what I do, but I had never thought of naming it in that way. And also the idea that feeling around in the situation brings us right back to this moment. Thank you. Love....

Rebecca Johnson said...

Suz, So good to hear from you today. Thank you for your sweet, sweet words. I am allowing myself. And find myself grieving still today. But also very much enjoying the beauty that we still have. Love...

Rebecca Johnson said...

Lucy,

I love, love, LOVE Charlie Brown trees! It is also my very favorite Christmas movie moment when Linus wraps his blue blanket around that little tree. : ) But, there is also the moment when Linus says, "And that's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown." : )

What a wonderful exercise with the mosaic. (Did you read that book, Broken for You? I believe it was by a Seattle writer.) I am remembering now how I hated seeing all of those pieces in the trash can. It may have been more healing to keep them for a few days, but at the time, I just wanted them out of sight so it wouldn't be so sad.

I can't tell you how much you and your family are in my thoughts and my prayers. Love...

Rebecca Johnson said...

Barbara, I know that un-attachment is not a word, but I just can't bring myself to call it detachment. It sounds so...so...detached! I'm sure it's just semantics.

The picture of the ornament is called a bubble light. They are hard to come by, but we have them on our tree every year. I remember my Granny putting them up around our Nativity Scenes when I was a child. Can you imagine? But, I thought that it was the most beautiful thing that I had every seen. So they are magical. : )

Love....

The Pollinatrix said...

Wow, you get inspiration IN THE CAR??? I'm envious. I tend to get inspiration while I'm lying in bed, trying to go to sleep.

I've found myself with this post frequently on my mind. One thing I didn't say before is that I'm very glad that tree didn't fall on you and your daughter!

Re: the semantics issue. I like "non-attachment" the best, but none of them seem quite adequate. I don't see it so much as being unattached as it is about being able to let go when it's required, which implies attachment beforehand. I've gotten to a point where I no longer believe attachment is a bad thing. It just has its season. Even clinging has its place and beauty.

Rebecca Johnson said...

Polli,

I am coming to know that I can always count on you to not see something as a "bad" thing. Thanks for reminding me!

You are right. There has to be a better word. Neither works very well. Think something up for us. Please?

No "aha" moments in the car!? If it wasn't for the car I would almost never have a coherent thought. : ) My other place is the walks with the dog. They keep me centered.

lucy said...

i did read 'broken for you'. it was one of those books that jumped off the shelf and into my hand. i was so glad it did.

i have definitely felt and continue to feel the presence of so many people. thank you and blessings to you and yours.

SUNRISE SISTER said...

Rebecca, What a beautiful post. The letting go and attachment piece is lovely, lovely! I don't know how anyone could read this and not recall their own loss and disengagement from someone, something, some time special. A couple of silly little ornaments we had for years when the kids were little were a set of felt made "Bert and Ernie" ornaments. I never could remember which was which but I do remember the year I opened up the ornament box and realized that one of them was gone. Because we had ALL put the ornaments away no one ever thought to check that the pair was safely in the box together. I now feel a pang when the ornaments go up and one of them is missing. Not to worry though, because this year there's no tree in our house. No kids coming here for Christmas and we will be celebrating in Seattle with Lucy, Aslan and gang - there's a rumor there's a tree there!! Anyway, this piece is a true tale of spiritual life, loss, and growth. You are a splendid writer!!

xoxox

Rebecca Johnson said...

SS, I feel sad for Bert or Ernie, which ever one is missing. Are you missing a tree this year? I wonder if there will come a time in my life when I might feel relieved at passing on the tradition? But for now, I will repeat that I LOVE everything about my Christmas tree. : ) Love...