Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Little Tree

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My little treeI live on the ground floor of an apartment building facing a six lane parkway. There is constant traffic flashing by, with the swooshing sound of engines and howling cries of ambulances on emergency runs. In the winter time it looks barren except for the rows of trees along the bicycle path stretching all the way to the beach.

If not for those trees I would find myself engulfed in the sight of all that hurried movement. Instead I gaze at the feast that nature presents in new ways with every passing season. I am also blessed with a luxurious lawn under my kitchen window cared for by a loving Italian gardener. I once told him of my appreciation for the care and beauty he was bringing to the outside of our building and certainly into my world. As a reply, he planted a little tree that I could see from my window.

That little tree has grown, but not much. I sometimes wonder if it isn’t intimidated by the gigantic pine tree shielding the front of the house next door. Or perhaps it looks small in comparison. But with every season that little tree goes through a transformation that fills me with awe. In the springtime the tiny knobs covering its barren branches turn to emerald as delicate leaves appear to clothe the little tree in its new attire. Then in the summer its mane of green leaves shelters the multi-colored flowers circling its trunk. When the first chill of autumn makes itself felt, my little tree turns its lovely crown into a dazzling jewel of gold and russet tones as if glowing with pride at having captured the sunshine. Then one by one the leaves fall, gracing the lawn with a carpet of muted color until the little tree stands naked and bare. But I imagine its twisted little branches reaching upward to the sky as if in prayer. It will stay for months in meditation reminding me that nature also prays for life to be rekindled.

This winter however, a most disastrous event took place. The East coast of the United States was hit with a hurricane that destroyed most of the houses along the shore. The sand from the beach at the end of my parkway covered the streets. Windows were smashed, cars overturned, trees ripped from the safety of cement sidewalks.

Fallen treeI witnessed a perfect storm called Sandy. I watched her from my window as the wind slapped the buildings and the houses along the street. An eerie emptiness hovered along the parkway, as if the cars had floated away, suddenly replaced by ambulances and fire trucks, their sirens shrieking into the air.

I watched with trepidation as the delicate frame of my little tree bent under the wind, and feared it could not resist this force testing its courage. I imagined its beauty gone, its festive attire gracing the seasons, its celebration of life even in winter with its branches sending up prayers to the heavens.

Well, my little tree made it! While many of the bigger trees had surrendered and fallen, their enormous roots ripping the sidewalks into tatters, my little tree had trembled and shaken but remained whole. Was it sad that the big pine tree in front of the house next door had fallen? I walk by and see giant roots splayed on the grass. But a fragrance of pine remains, a reminder of its former beauty and grandeur. Meanwhile, my little tree stands proud, and seems a bit taller as it awaits the spring. And I can’t help but think that this little tree is so much like me.

 

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On Writing

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I always wanted to write a book. I remember when the idea first occurred to me.

Mariette I was nine years old and walking home from school. I had always been a model student receiving prizes at the end of the school year for my high achievements. This was in Belgium after the war. Having lost most of my family, my teacher paid special attention to me, guiding me into reading above my grade level. I also spent every afternoon in the library where the librarian recognized me as an unusual but sometimes sad little girl. She was always an attentive listener to my childhood woes and made sure to select books I would love. I knew I could depend on her being there to help me with my homework, greeting me every time I came into the library with her bright and welcoming smile. She introduced  me to the  tales and legends of the ancient Greeks and set my imagination on fire with her explanations of what was waiting for me in the adult section of the library.

One afternoon after my faithful stop at the library, filled with the drama of Charles Dickens in my head, I didn’t realize how quickly I reached the street where I lived with my father, his female companion and her retarded son. It was a very narrow alleyway, impossible for cars to go through. I remember it being cold and misty that late afternoon, which made the alleyway look even more mysterious. I looked up and saw the street lamp-lighter.

lamplighterI watched mesmerized as he lit the gaslights one by one with his long pole. The houses were clothed in mellow colors and the cobblestones glistened like jewels. Suddenly in my mind, the street appeared as a stage and he was lighting the stage lights. I stood there for a while as if in a dream, imagining myself walking onto that stage. I felt as if I was a character in a book that I was going to write someday.

It took a lifetime to accomplish. I wrote about my adventures. I processed my feelings into poetry. I experienced the existential angst of questioning my purpose on this planet. The years passed then flew by, sweeping into my consciousness the gnawing awareness of “the travel of no return” revealing Le moment de verite, that moment of truth when your entire life flashes before you.

I struggled with a sense of meaninglessness until I decided to write my memoir. I owe my friend Nancy Wait gratitude for rekindling that spark I felt as a child who dreamed of becoming an author. As my writing coach and editor, she guided me with patience and certitude, always believing that I would succeed.

The process of writing took ten years of learning a craft I deem sacred. I persevered through the frustrations of understanding what a good writer must do. Which is to invite the reader into this sacred realm of words, knowing that after the last page, a sense of timelessness has been achieved. And the gift of life has been acknowledged.