things that go bang in the night.
until the rat-a-tat-tat, it had been a silent night. not even the usual tossing and turning. but then the big bang came. sounded like gunfire. or maybe a long string of firecrackers. i did what any night-rousled someone would do: i flung back the sheets and leapt toward the window (not such a smart idea as i look in the rear-view mirror).
peering into the murky darkness, trying to make out shapes against the silhouette of the street lamps, i couldn’t see much. only what looked like lots and lots of leaves.
so i did what any half-witted, mostly-asleep someone would do: i ran outside.
it took a half circle of perambulation, as i walked down the bluestone walk and into the street, to realize what was appearing before my still-blurry eyes: a good third of our giant locust tree had decided to fall to the ground, and on its way down the rat-a-tat i had heard was the sound of the big ol’ locust shaving off half the parkway maple.
now i am a girl who loves her trees. i come to befriend them. consider them living, breathing specimens with layers and layers of stories. of history. of keeping wise watch on all that unfolds below and above and within. and this particular tree is the muscular one, the centerstage one that, long as i’ve known this old house, has harbored and shaded the front. it’s as if the big old tree is reaching its arms round the house and all who dwell there. it stands in the way, as if the sentry dead-set on keeping us safe. in fact, i’m certain i fell in love with the tree at the very same instant i fell for the house. likely before, since i had to walk beneath and around that fine lacy-leafed locust on my very first traipse up the walk.
it’s the tree whose branches — in the years when it’s grown inches and inches before we’ve brought in the trimmers — tap against our bedroom window panes, and let us know when a storm is stirring up trouble. it’s the tree whose filagree makes for the lacy dapples of light and shadow in the window seat that’s held me through long hours of long-distance phone calls with the boys i so love, and pages and pages and pages of books (i think of it as my “therapy nook” as emphatically as i call it my book nook). it’s the romping ground of sparrows and woodpeckers, and the high-up perch of the cardinal. it’s where the squirrels, whole generations of squirrels, build their nurseries and stash their winter’s larder.
it’s the tree that has long made my night sky an alchemy of heaven and earth, as the stars play peek-a-boo between the tossing branches and leaves.
and now there’s a hole in my sky.
that night, the night of the big crash-bang-boom, our street looked not unlike a crime scene: the cops rolled right up, set flares glaring into the night, all around the perimeter of the tree now sprawled clear across the street. the guy with the chain saw came too, once he was roused from his sleep, clear up in wisconsin he told me, as i tried to fill his mug with coffee. some of the neighbors came too, all of us decked out in our jammies and various iterations of footwear. (one came in big rubber rain boots, i — stupidly — left my flip-flops behind.)
the next morning, still another big branch came crashing to the ground. (i lost another night’s sleep, tossing and turning over the what-if’s with that one, knowing how often our sidewalk is filled with nannies and babies en route to the park down the lane.) the tree gurus are pretty sure the first fallen chunk of the tree had been holding up the one that fell hours later. and everyone’s certain the big tree is strong as it’s ever been. (last winter an old oak in the yard next door fell to the ground, pulled right up out of the earth, and the tree man told me our big locust likely lost one of its buffers from the wind, and now took all westerlies straight on, thus shaking loose any precarious limbs.)
but the part where the story turned decidedly sweet, the part where it really got me to thinking, was what happened once the sunlight came up, and i sent a note off to my faraway boys, to let them know what had happened during the night.
you would have thought an old friend had died.
both sent notes with lots and lots of exclamations. and not the happy kind. both wanted pictures. both knew exactly how shaken i was — because, suddenly, they were too.
it made me think about home. and how even when you’re no longer there, day after day, night after night, you expect it to stay just as it was. home is defined by a curious set of particulars: the creaks in the stairs, the way the bathroom window always gets stuck. the tree that’s always out front.
and when the picture is changed — even when you’re far far away — it takes a bit of realignment. our world is not right. not right away anyway.
so it is with our living, breathing, hurting and healing selves. in the course of our lives we take a mighty long string of blow after blow. it starts early on. most of us can’t even recall what first set us to tears. we take skinned knee and knocks to the head. we fall off swings, we tumble down stairs. we take hurt after hurt, and each time — miraculously — we heal. or we regain some piece of wholeness again. we learn to live with the bruise, or the scar. we learn to live with our hearts shattered to pieces. somehow, some miraculous how, we are stitched back together again. we might even forget just how much it hurt. or maybe we learn to remember without feeling the whole of the sting. sometimes, we even realize the horrible, unbearable hurt has opened the door to some unimaginable room. when my sweet papa died, i decided not to run off to faraway nursing school. instead i stayed close to home, and learned how to type — and a thing or two about newspaper writing — and there in a newsroom six years later, i met the love of my sweet life. and from that came our beautiful blessed couplet of boys, the ones we call our first and second double-bylines.
the point here might simply be that all our life long we are taking hit after hit, and somehow finding the hope and the faith and the possibility that stitches us back together again: never the same, and maybe just a little bit stronger.
and in the meantime, when i look up into the night sky, from down by the trunk of my big old tree, i see heaven’s dome, more stitched with stars than i’ve ever seen before….
how have the hurts — and holes — in your life, opened you to wide new starry-stitched vistas?
Oh my. Oh. My. You started the tears this morning, and not just because of the trees, though I feel you — the neighbors took down a huge tree yesterday and I couldn’t not watch – like a friend walking away. That your boys feel it is no surprise – you and B have shown them how to see and how to love. The blows have been big lately, and I will print out and read your words again and again to remind me that, with a hole in our sky, we may see even more stars. Thank you for all the softness you bring to this hard world. ❤️😘
thank you for receiving. i had no real idea where i was going this morning — i thought it was going to be about “home,” and it turned into something about holes and healings.
sending love, and buffers against all the blows. that’s why the table is here. we are each other’s big old oaks, buffers to the blows….
Nan couldn’t possibly have said it better, so I’m slipping my arm through hers to give her same message to you once again, this time in stereo… I agree with you: we are indeed each other’s big old oaks….
Isn’t it amazing, the ways that unbearable hurt and loss opened an unimaginable room for you, a newsroom to be exact, one that held Blair, which in brought your double by-lines into being? I love how your story has turned out and can’t wait to see what your next chapters will be.
As always, I’m sending you love, my dear sweet BAM. xoxo
ah, dear dear amy. the thoughts about seeing more of the stars in the sky reminds me of one of my very favorite jewish teachings/commandments, whose moment is coming. at Sukkat, the jewish harvest festival in which a “sukkah” is built — often a wooden structure, always out of doors, decorated with autumnal fruits — there is a commandment to leave an opening in the roof of the sukkah, so that you can see the stars in the night sky. i’ve written about it, and love that God is instructing us to behold wonder. “see the stars. look for the stars.”
i didn’t see this lovely comment from you till just now because all the rest of yesterday, i was getting ready for — and driving in pouring rain to — a talk blair and i were giving last night (our first ever, to give a talk together). but now, yea!, it’s the morning after. and time to circle by the chair to see what’s waiting there.
sending blessings, and love, and praying your mighty mississippi isn’t thinking of spilling its banks. mighty soggy here! xoxox
just found this beautiful beautiful story, a perfect backdrop to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which unfolds at sundown on sunday. this is a link to a story of the magnificent defiance of the Shofar, sounded miraculously at Auschwitz. it’s a stirring read, and will leave you thinking….
here’s the headline, followed by the link:
An Improbable Relic of Auschwitz: a Shofar That Defied the Nazis
The daughter of a Holocaust survivor has brought forward a ram’s horn trumpet and her father’s account of the power of belief amid death.
L’Shanah Tovah! I just returned from a complicated road trip with some siblings and a few children/cousins to share in the wedding of a nephew and his most adorable bride. The trip was filled with “pot holes” both physical and metaphysical that only come with the combining of aging siblings and those lovely relationships that come about through marriage. There were unexpected moments of laughter, sadness and laughter. We all made it home alive. It is the holes because of the missing that kept it all in perspective. Oh my…the stories shared, some were new and many old worth repeating. We saw mountains, trees, stars…but most importantly, we beheld each other for better and worse, just like those darned vows. I have a sweater that my mom gave me years and years ago. It is so filled with holes, but I can never part from it. It is the holes that hold us together. xxoo
“It is the holes that hold us together.” beautiful, lamcal. sounds like quite a trip.
also makes me wonder how a road trip filled with pot holes differs from when the pot holes come during a stationary state. is there something about the moving along, the geography, the journey, that amplifies AND works to heal the potholes? is there healing power in the movement, the motion, the ever-shifting landscape? no answer here, just loving the question.
and this all reminds me of the beautiful japanese art of kintsugi, filling in the brokenness with radiance, with luminescence — with precious molten metals…..
welcome home. xoxo