Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Willow Tree: 3.1 The New Boy

He learned to walk in the clearing between me and the creek. Carly brought him as she promised to do. Those first few cycles of the seasons, when I witnessed him transform from that round, sleepy bundle in her arms to a giggling baby scooting on his hands and knees to this scrappy, ready-to-go boy, were the best of my years. Nothing could surpass the pleasure of it. I guarded his perfect face from the glare of the sun. I watched with anxious hope as he took his first steps then, in what seemed like no time at all, began to run and tumble over the bumps of the earth that surrounded me. I swung my boughs in the wind, inviting him to grab hold and lift his little feet from the ground.

I saw his father in his eyes and smile; heard his father in his laugh. His mother noticed it, too, of course. Bittersweet and beautiful, her still waiting for William's return, she'd set down her papers and pen to watch him play. On picnic days, she talked of nothing but William while the new boy chewed his sandwiches and apples. Stories to make him smile, make him laugh, make him listen in wonder. Always when she finished came the question, "When will Daddy come home?" Always the same answer, whispered into her boy's blonde curls as she hugged him, "Soon, my dear, soon."

The new boy was Thomas William, as that was what Carly called out when he wandered from my side. The rest of the time though, he was Tommy.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Completing Our Masterpieces

Oh, my friends. My dear reader friends. I am inching ever closer to the end of my intensive revisions of the manuscript. Every week I add another stack of pages to the "finished" pile and watch the "to-do" pile shrink. I can see the end. It's out there; up a few small hills, hugging the horizon, waiting to greet me. Not that it's the true end. It's only another necessary phase of the work. Next up: an out loud reading of my novel to find mistakes and weaknesses overlooked by the eye but noticeable to the ear. Still, it is an end. It is a finish line I've been striving for since the start of 2016.

There are times I tell myself to calm down about it all. I fill my brain with warnings about expectations and hopes and dreams. They're dangerous.

Wasted warnings; it can't be helped. This manuscript is my masterpiece and I have to treat it as such. I don't know if it will be a masterpiece in anyone else's eyes but it is in mine. That fact means it needs to be offered to others. That's the latest lesson I've learned.

My almost three year old son often returns from the sitter's house with a new piece of artwork. He is invariably proud of them. This includes those that are purely his, that don't show evidence of how much the sitter helped him but rather look, plain and simple, like the work of a toddler. I arrive home from my workday and he hands them to me with his head held high and a hint of wonder in his voice as he announces, "I made that!" They are his masterpieces. Even when I have to ask him to interpret the picture before I can see the train or the truck or the dog, they are his masterpieces.

Masterpieces aren't meant for the maker alone. They are meant to be held up for anyone to see. At risk of rejection and criticism, indifference and even cruelty, they are to be offered. Because maybe my masterpiece might make another person's day better; maybe it could plant a seed of faith in what is good and true and beautiful; maybe it could edify the heart and mind of a person brought low by lesser things. It could make someone laugh deep in their gut like we all love to laugh. It could bring joy or insight or inspiration. You never know. You never know.

We're all capable of masterpieces. We were designed to provide masterpieces to the rest of our human family. Each unique; each requiring vulnerability and courage. When we create them, we know it. As we are filled with the urgent need to show it to someone, risks be damned, we know what we have created. Want to know why Facebook and YouTube and Instagram are so absurdly successful? Because we long to share our masterpieces with the rest of world. That's not what we are doing most of the time in those mediums but it's a large part of what drives us to use them at all.

My masterpiece might end up only being a masterpiece in my eyes. Or, at most, the eyes of those who love me dearly, much like a toddler's indecipherable depiction of a train. In the end, that's not what matters. What matters is the completion of the masterpiece and it simply is not complete until it is offered to others.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Willow Tree 2.3: The Woman and the Child

Spring began with the wedding. Afterward, only several sunrises passed before Carly found her way back to me. She came alone. I expected to hear William call to her as he arrived; I watched the field and listened over the noise of the birds. He did not come. She sat alone against my trunk, her fingers splayed over the damp ground covering my roots. Perfectly still, eyes focused on the creek, she was silent at first. Then she cried. One sob escaped her throat and her hand, adorned now by a simple band on her finger, went to her mouth to muffle the next one. I watched her shoulders shake.

I have never felt more helpless. Oh how I ached to bend down to hold her. I could only stand beside her, willing her to draw strength from my solidity.

She quieted eventually, lying down below my swaying leaves and falling asleep for the rest of the afternoon. She was a splendid sight: her hair fanned over the grass, one hand tucked beneath her cheek, knees curled toward her stomach. She slept until the sun set and the breeze turned chilly enough to bring on a shiver.

Carly returned often, usually with papers in hand. Some were covered in writing that she read eagerly and clutched to her chest. Other pieces were blank when she arrived and her time was spent filling them to their edges.

It was nearing the close of summer by the time I noticed the swelling of Carly's stomach. The meaning of it was apparent even to me, as I'd spent my years observing the mothers in the forest. After finishing her reading or writing, she would lie down on her back on the smoothest patch of grass under my cover and run her hand round and round the little hill of her belly. One foggy morning, I watched as the child within kicked Carly's hand. Carly sat up, a grin spreading across her pretty face even as tears rapidly filled her eyes.

When she had grown too large to lie on her back, she rolled to her side and held her stomach protectively. That was around the time she began talking to the child.

"Are you going to look like your daddy, little one? I bet you'll have his smile. Yes, I'm sure you will."

"We're in your daddy's favorite spot in the whole world. Did you know that?"

"We got a letter from your daddy today, little one. He is tremendously excited to meet you."

As everything changed to browns, reds, and oranges, and leaves floated off their branches, and the sun closed the days earlier and earlier, Carly walked more slowly through the field. She stayed for briefer bits of time. When the first snowflakes of the season fell from fat, gray clouds, Carly leaned against me and sighed.

"It'll be a while before I come back, I think."

It took a moment for me to emerge from my confusion and realize she was speaking to me. A first in all my years.

"I will come back though. I'll bring my little one, I promise. And someday, I'll bring William with me again."

The winter didn't seem so terribly cold with that promise held beneath my bark.

Monday, August 15, 2016

I Am Not A Tree

I have officially found my personal mantra. A couple months ago, in one of my too-many-per-day perusals of Facebook, I saw this motivational image:
While I am fairly certain I have seen them before, those two sentences stuck with me this time. I remember scrolling back up to it after moving on with my news feed. I stared at the words and whispered, "I am not a tree."

The next day, I added it to my cubicle, right beside my monitor so I would see it often. In all caps on a Post-It: I am not a tree. There have been countless moments in which I have repeated it to myself. 

Here's what I have learned since adopting this mantra:

1. Change is possible. Without a doubt. 

2. I am responsible for where I am. No one has planted me in this spot. No one has buried my feet in the soil and said, "here you shall stay." I have chosen the route to where/who I am now and I shall choose the route going forward. 

3. I am capable of more. Self-doubt is a personal plague. Oh, how I have wrestled with that demon. The wrestling matches are becoming more rare and I come out of the rounds less bruised.

4. I will never regret trying harder. On the other side of the same coin, I will regret trying less. Knowing #3, I am finding the inner resources needed to challenge and push myself to a new degree.

5. Choosing my movements should be done wisely but without fear. Life is brief. Life is full of potential. I would hate for my choices to squander that potential. Thus, I must choose wisely. I must act intentionally, not indifferently. At the same time, the fear of mistakes should not stop me from choosing at all or from taking risks. Mistakes will happen. So will starting over.

Sometimes I tell myself "I am not a tree" as a gentle reminder in a moment of decision. Sometimes I claim it, declaring it loudly in my mind to give myself permission to be bold. Living under this mantra has affected more aspects of my life than I could have predicted: attitude, time management, fitness, nutrition, writing, appearance, goals. 

For whatever it is worth to you, I hope you know you are not a tree either.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What Will It Be Today?

Lately, I am working on mindfulness. Mental awareness of what is present to me in the current moment; less multitasking; more taking note of the small pleasures and experiences that are overlooked when my mind is elsewhere. When I make the effort to practice mindfulness, I reach the end of the day with a clearer head and a more grateful spirit.

One of the easiest times to practice these mental adjustments is when I am running. Only several weeks ago I decided to take up running (read: jogging). I am gradually building my endurance. My muscles are growing stronger and my energy levels are increasing. It's been wonderful, even when I limp through a day or two on sore legs and feet as I lengthen my runs. I run early, dragging myself out of bed at 5 a.m. and starting my route as soon as I'm able to get out the door. The town is quiet, the roads mostly empty, and the sunrise still finishing.

On Tuesday, I couldn't take my eyes off the sky. The clouds were dark, keeping the sunrise at bay for longer than usual. They were heavy and wide. Everything below them seemed dwarfed under that canopy. Yesterday, it was the crickets. Each time I passed a cornfield, I found myself running through a symphony of crickets. The sound was tremendous!

I am trying to pay attention to those things. Not only on my runs, but everywhere else, too. This morning it was the imaginary scenes playing out between my almost three year old's toys in his first minutes out of bed. I stood out of view for a bit to listen before going to say good morning.

What will I notice in the course of tonight or tomorrow that I am apt to overlook? I am happily waiting to find out.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Willow Tree 2.2: The Sailor and His Bride

From those early spring days through the coolest of autumn evenings, he brought Carly back again and again. The boy's name was William. When I first heard her speak his name, I felt such pride at finally knowing it. He told her everyone else called him Bill but he loved the way she said his real name.

William had an excellent laugh, hearty and sincere, and Carly made him laugh a lot in those months. They brought picnics of roast beef sandwiches or bread and cheese. They flew a red kite a few times. They kissed. Light, brush on the lips kisses; warm, drawn out kisses; open mouth, in the middle of a laugh kisses; and deep, long, breathless kisses that ended with their arms wrapped around each other like one might float away if they both did not hold on tightly enough.

Winter came, as it always does. The winds turned icy and the ground grew hard. William and Carly stopped wandering my way. I did not see them until the following spring, a year since their first visit. They arrived on a sunny afternoon, when the field was dotted with purple lupines and the breeze was gentle once again. William wore a crisp, navy blue uniform. Until he was very near, he looked very much a grown man. Up close though, he was still a boy. Carly wore a simple, white dress that skimmed the grass under her feet. Her dark hair was set in thick ringlets. A silky white shawl covered her shoulders and she kept her arm tucked in the crook of William's elbow as they walked toward me.

My boughs were bending with the breeze, their buds beginning to open toward the sun. It is what I consider to be my prettiest state. As they came under my height, Carly ran her hand over a cluster of my lowest hanging branches. I could feel her fingers course over the bumps of my new leaves. The couple had eyes only for each other though - eyes intermittently wet with tears. They spoke in whispers and promises and caresses.

Eventually they were silent. Carly had her cheek against his chest. His arms held her around the waist and they swayed in a soothing rhythm all their own. Finally Carly spoke up again.

"We must get to the party. They will all be wondering why we haven't arrived."

"Let them wait." William answered firmly.

She lifted a hand to his cheek. "No, William. They all need to say goodbye, too. They all need to see us happy before they let you go."

He moved Carly's palm to his lips, planting a kiss there. "I love you."

"I love you."

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Willow Tree 2.1 - The Boy and His Girl

I recognized the boy from years before. He hadn't visited in a long while but there was no mistaking those round, brown eyes, tousled blonde hair, and crooked smile. I knew him in an instant and I was gladdened by his return.

"This used to be my favorite spot as a kid," he whispered to the girl who sat beside him, her head on his shoulder.

I'd suspected as much. He used to tramp through the long grasses of the field, stick in hand, to stop
under my branches. Sometimes he fought imaginary foes, swinging his stick like a mighty sword. On especially warm days, the boy laid beneath the shade I offered. He peered through the gaps of my leaves and boughs, winking at the sun.

A particularly happy memory for me was the time he stood beside me, his hand occasionally resting on my trunk, and recited again and again a wordy, lofty speech by someone named Shakespeare, or Puck perhaps. (These names I discerned from the boy's grumblings at moments when he lost his place.) I recall with delight the final recitation, when he delivered every line with clarity. His smile, his whoop of satisfaction. It was a fine day.

Now he has returned. Grown tall and muscular. His voice is richer yet still full of his younger self. And he has brought his girl. They sit against my trunk, their backs warming the bark. She is lovely; brown, thick hair reaching halfway down her back, cheeks and lips pink with happiness. He looks at her as at a jewel. It is early in spring, the sun only beginning to recover its heat after the long days and nights of winter. His girl - Carly, he calls her - snuggles closer under his arm and the smile on his face is perfect. The hum of their conversation blends with the breeze. It is steady, soothing, and confident, reminding me of a song a man sang once long ago as he walked along the stream to a destination unknown.

The boy and his girl stay until the field is afire with the sun dipping low and bright behind it. I hear Carly promise to come back again with him and I am filled with a share of the hope I see in the boy's face.

They do come back. They do, and I shall tell you what became of them.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Willow Tree 1.1

I stand at the edge of a sloping field that turns golden in October. There is a narrow stream running nearby, near enough for me to enjoy its gurgling sounds and watch it flood its shallow banks each Spring. I have stood here for many years. So many years. I have grown tall and thick and old with my roots stretching for yards and yards beneath the grass and dirt

Though I've tried, I cannot remember the day I was planted. More than when, I have wondered whether it was on purpose. Did someone want me here, in this spot, for a reason particular to him? I have heard myself called a "weeping" willow. From the men, women, and children I have known, I've learned what it is to weep. I wish they would not call me that. I cannot weep. And truly, there has been only a single day that I wished I could weep.

The moments I have witnessed, the people I have been privileged to know; the memories of them all are hanging in my boughs. I fear they will be lost soon. I fear I will be gone. If you would sit with me a while and listen, I am longing to tell my stories.