4 out of 10

stress-4Stress is ubiquitous. These days, perhaps, more than ever. My online friends’ posts have virtual worry lines; my in-the-flesh friends’ uniforms consist of pinched faces and slumped shoulders. Reasons for stress are major and minor, and some wear us down like a river makes a canyon with their constancy. Others are mere annoyances, gnats buzzing in our ears, but these are the stresses that often shoot us over the edge.

There are many ‘top stressor’ lists (when I googled ‘top life stressors’ I got 8.62 million hits), but one decent summary revealed these:

  • death of a loved one
  • separation or divorce
  • getting married
  • starting a new job
  • work place stressors
  • financial problems
  • moving to a new house
  • chronic illness or injury
  • retirement
  • transitioning to adulthood

Since May 1, I’ve been the lucky recipient of 4 of these challenges. Not to mention lots of lesser stressors (e.g., crazy landlord) and those wholly out of my control (e.g., #45 and his mayhem-making minions). No wonder my heart feels like it is pounding out of my chest, sleep is an elusive friend, and I cannot focus on things that typically bring me joy. Like writing.

So here are my bad boys—separation/divorce, work place problems, moving to a new house, and chronic illness. I’ll be writing about each major stressor, how it affects me, and what I’m trying to do to help myself cope, in subsequent posts. But meanwhile… how the heck are you? Which of the above (or add your own) stressful situations are you currently experiencing?

Peace…

 

The Loneliest Tree

fir treeOnce, high on a golden hill, lived the littlest fir tree. His older brothers and sisters often sent him special gifts: a spider trailing on a silken thread, milkweed spores drifting on a summer breeze, soft pollen that painted him yellow. These presents made the small fir tree tremble with joy. But when the spider lifted away, the downy milkweed fluttered to the field, and the wind dusted off the pollen, the little fir tree felt lonelier than ever.

In the Spring, a wren chose to nest in the fir tree. Mornings, the baby birds chortled as their mother searched for grubs and worms. One afternoon, as the littlest fir tree and the baby wrens drowsed in the wan sun, the wren squawked loudly, rousting her family from the tree. A man and a boy, both clad in overalls, walked through the orchard, throwing fertilizer around the trees.

“There, there.” The boy tossed pellets under the littlest fir tree’s boughs. “Grow strong and green.” He squinted up at the nest perched in the littlest tree, his Red Sox cap on backwards. His fingers stroked the needles and the tree shivered.

“So soft, papa,” the boy said. “Like a kitten’s tail.”

“Yup,” said the man. “He’s the youngun here – just like you.”

***

That summer, the wind smelled of sweet hay. Buzzing bees filled the air with song. The farmer and his son came to the hill almost every day, watering the trees when the sun withered their needles. The boy panted and groaned as he hauled the full pails up the hill, but he always watered the littlest fir tree. After, he collapsed in the cool shade cast by the fir tree and made up stories about the puffy cloud creatures scudding across the sky.

One morning, the farmer came with a machine that whirred and twirled. The smallest fir tree watched the farmer trim his brothers and sisters into triangle shapes. The other trees danced in the breeze, happy with their new look, but the buzzing tool scared the smallest fir tree.

“This won’t hurt,” the boy said. He didn’t wear a cap, and the sun shone on his shiny head. “See, I don’t have my hair anymore, either.”

And it didn’t, the tool tickled. The fir tree shivered with delight.

***

The leaves of the forest maples flamed red. Shadows stretched long across the meadow. The boy didn’t come to the orchard very often, and when he did, his father often carried him to  the littlest fir tree, and the boy slept in the warm autumn sun.

On the first hard frost, the hill sparkled with diamonds. The man walked the orchard alone, pulling long red and white and yellow ribbons from a leather bag slung over his shoulder. He tied a ribbon on each tree and the ribbons fluttered like flags in the brisk wind. The littlest fir tree wondered what color ribbon the farmer would tie on him. But when the man reached the hilltop, he paused before the littlest tree and sighed a deep sigh, then walked back down the hill.

The sun dropped behind the forest ridge. The fir tree shivered, sending needles to the ground.

***

The first flakes of snow fell. The ground rumbled. Cars and trucks filled the bottom field. Shouts of children filled the air.

“There! This tree!”

“No, this one!”

The children swarmed around the small fir tree, sometimes even saying “This one!”

But the fathers said, “This tree is too puny. Besides, it has no ribbon,” and strode past, saws and axes thrown over their shoulders. The littlest fir tree trembled as his brothers and sisters groaned and fell to the ground.

***

Snow dusted the stump-stubbled hill. Without the protection of his family, the northeast gusted hard and cold, coating the trembling fir tree in ice. The mockingbird trilled as the wagon, pulled by the man, bumped and creaked up the hill. When the man reached the top, he pulled off his wool hat and wiped his sweat-shined forehead. In the wagon, the bundle of blankets moved; the small boy, pale and drawn, poked out his head. He smiled at the littlest tree, but the smile seemed as big an effort as lugging pails of water.

“This one?” the man asked the boy. “You’re sure?”

The little boy nodded and closed his eyes. The man gazed at the boy for a long moment, then turned away, a tear frozen on his cheek.

The fir tree looked down the hill at the stumps of his family one last time. Then he pulled his limbs tight and waited for the ax’s blow. But the man plunged a shovel into the frozen earth. He chipped a circle, deeper and deeper, around the tree, loosening the dirt around the fir tree’s roots.

The man pulled the tree tight to his chest; more than anything, the littlest tree wanted to stay in his embrace. But the man tugged hard, yanking the tree from the cold ground. The boy clapped his hands, his laugh sounded like birdsong.

“Your little tree will grow strong in the front yard,” the man said. “There, we can see him from the kitchen.”

“And I can visit him in the spring?” the boy whispered.

“Yes.” The man wiped at his shiny cheek. “Yes, you can.”

The man wrapped the trembling tree in burlap and nestled him in the wagon beside the boy. The boy snuggled into the littlest fir tree all the way down the hill and across the bumpy field. When the wagon stopped, the farmer unfurled the littlest fir tree from the cloth and propped him in a large hole. Shovels of dirt and snow covered his roots. The boy clambered from the wagon, falling twice in the deep snow. When he hugged the littlest fir tree, icicles tinkled to the ground.

***

I wish you health

I wish you joy

I wish you peace…

Holiday Grief

red christmas ball decorationAt the risk of sounding Scrooge-like, I contend the holiday lights and deep-discount sales and piped-in Bing Crosby carols that commence with an onslaught the day after Halloween serve as distractions for what is, without doubt, the least wonderful time of the year.

Everywhere, it seems, there is forced cheer, a rush to celebrate–what exactly?

Beyond the crass commercialism of the season, I think the glittery expectations mask something deeper. It wasn’t until half-way through Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri that it came to me—grief. This movie, phenomenally acted and filmed, is a study in grief and futility, of the ends people take to alleviate despair. It’s a brave film because it lays naked the sadness and anger and fear we, as a society, fear to show and name.

My grief becomes manifest when the days shorten and the temperatures dip. In the past, I’ve written how I welcome winter as a time to turn inward. But this year, things feel darker. Perhaps it is the accumulated memories of relatives, including my grandparents and father, who died this time of year. (My father’s death anniversary is a full moon that throws me in a deep, irritable funk). Perhaps it is the realization this is likely my mother’s last Christmas. Perhaps it is the haunting of a friend’s teenage daughter who took her own life last month. Perhaps it is the rapid dismantling of our country’s values on a nearly daily basis. Perhaps it is all of the above, and then some.

There are inklings others feel the same—it seems there are more face book posts with suicide hotline numbers, more food and clothing drives for those less fortunate. A grief akin to tenderness. All I know is I feel alone, which makes me feel small and vulnerable and lost. But rather than deny this discomfort, perhaps it is best to embrace these uncomfortable feelings and howl my grief for all I have lost and all I will never have.

And then, when I’m done blubbering, I will be able, again, to pound out dough and unreel wrapping paper and smile like I mean it. Because I will.

Tell me, how are you handling these days?

Peace…