When trees fall down

Whether or not a tree falling in a forest with no human soul to hear it makes any noise, I’m pretty sure that if that tree ends up blocking Coldwater Canyon on a beautiful Friday morning one can’t drive down Coldwater Canyon to get to work.

And so it was that on Friday I was standing still in “traffic” (which implies movement, so this was more like “parking”) along a lovely stretch of Mulholland Drive as I watched the clock on my car turn to ten a.m. (two hours after I had left on my typically thirty minute commute) blithely informing me that the therapy session to which I had failed to make it with my waiting client, the one I had asked to change, had just ended entirely without me ever showing up.

And whether falling trees do or don’t make noise, forgotten cell phones definitely do not make calls—not calls of explanation, not calls of heads up, not calls of apology—just mute and enigmatic silence regarding any excuse whatsoever as I sat contemplating the distant blue Pacific, the rogue yellow mustard growing crazy over the hillsides and the lovely purple wildflowers all just better than I at being, quietly indifferent as I sat blocked and breathing.

If I have one recurring dream that plagues me is that I’m late to see a client and I cannot make it to my office, or I am in my office but it is not my office and I cannot find the door, or I am bedraggled or messed up in some way and end up failing a client.  Thus for me Friday was a living nightmare, the one I’d been trying to avoid for years.  My self-interpretation of my own recurring dream might include an unconscious wish to not help others and also that the “client” is the part of myself that I cannot seem to get to or help.

Eventually I did get to my office; my client was lovely about the whole thing and we managed to have a session later that day and even glean some insights from the whole situation—during which my client pointed out to me that Friday, the last day of April, was in fact Arbor Day.  Perfect.

I blog about this partly in the service of acknowledging that sometimes things are just not about us, not personal; I was clear along my Odyssey to work that I was far from the only person impacted by a fallen tree—thousands of us just had to deal with it.  One man in a car creeping past me the other way smiled and said, “At least it’s a beautiful day.”  I agreed that it was, but also felt a strange pain in my left arm and thought that I just might be about to have a heart attack.  So much for yoga and Zen.  In my journey to find my tribe, it seems that you have to have both a sincere wish to help, and a neurotic monkey mind that is intermittently sure that something has gone terribly wrong to fully join my chapter of Anxiety Club.

In my growing conviction that life is some sort of lucid dream, a blocked communal path begs for collective interpretation—maybe the need to slow down, to confront limitations, to realize that we truly are all in this together, but also encouragement to just keep trying different routes until we find what works, as in my case the third canyon proved the charm.

At the realization that it was Arbor Day, I flashed back to the earliest memory that I carry from this life: I am less than two-years-old, sitting in a stroller being pushed by my Buby on a bright morning after a huge storm, we come upon an enormous felled elm blocking the sidewalk and the street—roots awesome and exposed, an image of mightiness toppled by a windy city tempest that had raged while I slept curled safe in my crib the night before.

That image seared into my consciousness with the recognition that something big had happened, void of any sort of symbol or metaphor—it was the raw power of a tree that fell over, that died, that succumbed to forces even bigger than it.

Much later I might come to know something about the World Tree, but that primal childhood image might as well have been the World Tree—neither upside down nor right side up, no longer standing, and yet now “standing” as apt foreshadowing for the sort of life I was destined to lead this time around… perhaps collectively hinting that the old ways are no longer functioning, and there is no way to just plod forward as we had expected.

Friday’s emotional experience of being blocked from helping those who we care about relates to parenting in general in that one of our very worst feelings is when we come up against our human limitations and know that those limitations (be they economic, addictive, anger management, neuro-chemical, medical, traffic-related or “other”) cause pain to our “children” (i.e. anyone we care about, ranging from a parent to a pet to a planet).  D.W. Winnicott, one of my favorite shrinks of yore, speaks of “optimal frustration,” where a parent does his or her best and yet the inevitable times that they fall short forces a child to grow resilient through just dealing with it.  Much has recently been made of resilience, and I’m all for it—but today I write in fellowship to strengthen the resilience of us parents who try so hard, who struggle with guilt and anguish about still coming up short, or are left wondering if our kids’ pains and struggles are somehow our fault (based on our parenting, our genetic endowments, etc.).

And if you happened to have had a depressed and limited parent you might like to take a look at “Depression and Dealing with our Own Limited Parents” as part our ongoing journey toward forgiveness of our selves and others, our journey toward each other that we sometimes end up more authentically making when trees fall down.

I have always felt the magic of trees, but then I imagine that we all do.  Trees are symbols of soul, it is said, but maybe they are just trees and it is we who are symbols of soul.  Souls trying to do our best, admitting our frailty and our love, doing our best and apologizing for falling short, getting upset and making up, growing beyond being special trees into being a forest together, where sometimes we fall over, and sometimes we start anew, maybe even providing shelter and a place to play for all our wild and collective children.

Namaste, Bruce


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6 Responses to “When trees fall down”

  1. Beth K Says:

    I’m sorry that you suffered the stress and feelings of helplessness, etc., but glad that you were able to glean insights from the ordeal and write a great post about it.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Thanks for kind words, Beth—they underscore my primary point, which is that it’s not my stress or your stress, but OUR stress… and our need to transcend the private alienation of imagining that we’re not all in our ultimate situation together.

  2. Alexandra Says:

    So happy to have found your blog.

    I’ve often thought and believed that parenting is such a rich, blessed privilege and gift!

    We can glean so much from it, and it is infinite in it’s blessings. If we recognize this gift before us.
    I love your blog.

  3. stephanie Says:

    Wow – does this mean I’m psychic? Sorry you went through that, and got a lot out of it too – glad to say I made my deadline!


    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      It all only further confirms my suspicion that seeming blocks and obstacles are often our most trenchant teachers. Perhaps we find our lifelines on the other side of our deadlines—maybe it is even those “dead” lines which re-make us when we fail to “make” them? Namaste

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