Tag Archives: Tree

From Now On Our Troubles Will Be Miles Away


I know how you feel about all this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that. It happens to me every year. I never get what I really want… real estate.

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care.

Minus one.

The Christmas tree is up. No lights or ornaments yet. I promised my five-year-old son I’d wait for him. He’ll be here later today.

I decorated my house for Christmas alone yesterday. My first holiday season as a single, divorced father.

The most-interesting and occasionally unpleasant thing about my new life is how emotions creep up and surprise me.

I wasn’t so naïve as to believe I’d be unaffected by the experience of going through boxes of holiday décor to see what I would set out versus what I will deliver to my ex-wife this afternoon.

But, damn.

I was really surprised by what my insides did.

Through the Years, We All Will Be Together

I opened a small tin.

There were many ornaments from her childhood. I closed it.

I picked up her stocking, her name stitched across the top. It has an angel on it. She loves angels. Has an entire Christmas tree dedicated to them every year. I folded it and put it back.

I went through a phase as a college student and young adult where I didn’t really make a big deal out of Christmas.

But it truly was a magical time of year for me as a child.

And as an adult—particularly as a father—I found myself softening up and gravitating back toward all of the goodness I’d always associated with the season of Christmas.

I even started listening to Christmas music again after avoiding it for several years.

These changes took place in large part because of my ex-wife. That girl oozes Christmas this time of year.

“This place looks like someone vomited Christmas EVERYWHERE. I love it!” said a former co-worker about my house when attending my ex-wife’s birthday party two years ago.

We had kicked around the idea of starting a new tradition where we had an open house party every Christmas evening. After the presents have been opened. All businesses closed. Maybe people would feel like getting out and drinking eggnog with us.

I always thought that sounded like fun.

If the Fates Allow

My last really nice memory with my ex-wife was this past Christmas.

Just the three of us and her brother’s family of three at her mother’s house.

I knew we were in enormous trouble.

But the spirit of the season poked through. It’s the last time it felt like family.

We had friends at our place for New Year’s. The clock struck midnight. I leaned down and kissed her cheek.

“This is the year everything gets better. 2013’s gonna be the best one yet,” I promised her.

“I hope so,” she said.

Faithful friends who are dear to us, gathered near to us once more.

We celebrated with fake smiles and sparkling wine.

But in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2013, we went to our separate bedrooms, starting the year just as it will end.

Thinking about Christmas paralyzes me. Because it matters again.

But I can’t run from any of it. There’s nowhere to hide.

Opening gifts and eating turkey with my family back in my hometown? Hours away from my son?

Staying home? Alone?

Accept my ex-wife’s Christmas invitation?

I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic (for once) but, shit. No. Right?

All of it sounds horrible. And I’m an optimist!

Is it possible to live vicariously enough through your child to overcome the shock from all the changes between last year and now?

Seems like a lot to ask of an oblivious kindergartener.

He’ll pick up an ornament later today.

“Where do you want to put this one, dad?”

I’ll glance over.

It will be the one with a photo of my ex in her wedding dress. Or the one with the bride and groom figurines. Or the one with a pretty ring jutting out of a red jewelry box. Or one of the dozens of ornaments an aunt or uncle had sent to both of us over the years.

Happy golden days of yore.

“Not that one, kiddo.”


“We’re going to give that one to mommy, bud.”


“No, sweetheart. We’re not going to hang that one on the tree this year.”

But we’ll soldier through, my little man and I.

Maybe watch a Christmas movie.

And I’ll hang that shining star up on the highest bough. The one being held by the angel who sits atop the tree, watching over the proceedings between now and early January.


The calendar flip.

A simple act. Turning that page. But hopefully a meaningful one.

Hopefully one that delivers the good tidings I falsely promised would come this year.

When our troubles will be out of sight.

But first, we tackle December 25. Together.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

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The Giving Tree

You don't notice my favorite tree. Because it's unremarkable. Right up until it turns a brilliant red, makes the world a better place, and reminds us that we all have something special that isn't always obvious at first glance.

You don’t notice my favorite tree. Because it’s unremarkable. Right up until it turns a brilliant red, makes the world a better place, and reminds us that we all have something special that isn’t always obvious at first glance.

It just stands there.

Quiet, steady and stoic.

The ultimate wallflower.

I rarely notice it. It looks just like thousands of others. Millions, even.

But then the calendar turns.

And autumn’s annual pilgrimage begins once again, delivering the deft touch of Mother Nature’s paintbrush.

The Ohio countryside, her canvas.

The magnificent trees, a spectacular display of her talents.

I forget every year. The breathtaking beauty of it all. But then the sun shines just right—causing fiery reds and oranges and yellows to burst from the green.

And my favorite tree stands out from them all.

It’s neither tall nor short. Neither big nor small. Neither insignificant nor particularly noteworthy.

Not most of the time, anyway.

But then fall happens. Abscission. The death of the phoenix.

Almost every day I see this tree.

And it’s always just a tree.

Only yesterday it was more.

The sunlight danced with it, showcasing vibrant reds and purples as the green slowly concedes that winter marches forth.

Unrivaled beauty in a sea of arboreal competition.

I stopped and stared at it several times.

And that’s when it dawned on me how much that tree was like us.

Like people.

People like me.

People like you.

Just a Number

My stepdad taught me many wonderful life lessons.

He’s the man who taught me how important wisdom was. Sometimes we humans spend a lot of time focusing on intelligence, wealth, and our eternal pursuit of happiness—whatever that is—and don’t think much about being wise, perhaps at the expense of other things we want.

It’s almost never wrong to err on the side of wisdom.

But he once told me something I wasn’t wise enough to disagree with at the time.

We were discussing my college plans over dinner. He, my mother and I. I was enrolled in a small, Catholic high school. There were just 75 kids in my graduating class. Just under 400 in the entire school.

And I liked it. It’s what I knew. I liked knowing almost everyone. Having almost everyone know me.

But for college, I was thinking about bigger, public universities. My parents wanted me to go to a small, private school.

“At a big school, you’re just a number, Matt,” my stepdad said.

The implication being, it’s hard to succeed. To be somebody. To make a difference.

I only nodded, not necessarily disagreeing.

Of course it’s easier to be a big fish in a small pond.

But I don’t really care about being a big fish.

I want to be a bright light.

And one bright light can illuminate a whole bunch of darkness.

More Than Just a Number

That’s what you are. More than just a number.

And that’s what that person over there is. That person you don’t know and aren’t paying attention to. They’re someone who matters, too.

We’re not just numbers.

But we blend in, though. Just like my favorite tree.

We’re easy to miss, sometimes.

People buzz along in their cars and trucks passing this tree every day. And most of the time it looks just like the rest. Green leaves. Typical. And in the winter, no leaves at all. Hardly worth a second look.

They don’t pay attention. Why would they?

The tree just sits there, contributing silently. Doing its small part to pump oxygen into the air. To support life.

Growing. Maturing. Just a little more every day.

But still, we don’t pay attention.

The bare, leafless tree looks just like the people I pass on my morning commutes in other cars who are paying equally little attention to me.

Just another thing taking up space. In a vast sea of seemingly forgettable things.

There’s nothing remarkable about any of it most of the time.

The tree can even look sad, shrouded in the gray of winter.

But the clocks keep ticking.

The planet keeps spinning and pirouetting around the sun.

And then light. And warmth.

New life.

And like that phoenix, it rises from its own ashes, giving birth to color and beauty once again.

And it sits. Fitting in. Looking pretty, but unexceptional. Not calling attention to itself at all.

Only the tree is not unexceptional.

It’s special. And unique.

It’s perfect in its simple, everyman form.

Quiet, steady and stoic.

Waiting patiently for that next moment to shine on another exquisite, future autumn day.

Capturing our awe.

Being more than just a number.

Filling us with gratitude.

And giving us hope.

Photo courtesy of Yazhang Photography

Photo courtesy of Yazhang Photography

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