Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Last Little Leaf

I just spent several days with my family — my two adult sisters and my mother. My stepfather died and we gathered together to move through the first few days after his death together. We wanted to support Mom and be in each other’s orbits as much as possible.

My mom and my sisters and I are close and not close at the same time. There was no question that I would hop on a plane as soon as my mom told me that my stepfather died; my sisters and I would be there for her in whatever way she needed. But we have complicated relationships — between each of us and among all of us.

I stayed for four days and then I had to come home. I went to a holiday party last night. I was sleep-deprived, sad, and adjusting to being out of the family-of-origin dynamic that I always fall right back into. At the party, I was awkward, negative, and unfocused. I felt like I was a terrible listener and a really boring talker. The whole evening felt a little bit like being emotionally seasick. 

This morning while walking my dog I called one of my friends Molly to check in. This friend is no-frills, amazingly insightful, non-judgemental, and wise. When she picked up the phone she said, “Hi. I was just thinking about you. You didn’t seem yourself at the party. Are you okay?”

I apologized for being so weird at the party and explained that being with my family had unmoored me. My equilibrium was off. My story is an age-old tale, one that many people experience — great love for my family, that is almost always accompanied by a hangover of confusing, unprocessed emotions after seeing them.

Molly said, as she and so many others have said over the years, “Laura, you have to stop going there.” She didn’t mean physically going to my childhood home. She meant emotionally. She explained the idea of getting out of the car on the freeway and getting in another car, one going where I wanted to go. “You have a choice not to go there Laura.”

As we talked I came upon a tree. There was one beautiful red leaf holding onto a branch on an otherwise completely bare tree. I stopped, took a picture of it, and texted Molly. “Why is that tree holding onto the leaf?” We laughed and continued talking for a while. A few hours later Molly texted me in response to my text about the naked tree, “I mean why is the leaf holding onto something that no longer provides any sustenance?”

She’s so smart! In my interpretation of the tree, the tree was holding onto the leaf, not allowing it to let go. In my friend’s interpretation, the leaf was holding onto the tree. There’s a big difference between these two versions. 

In my version, I wasn’t giving the leaf the power to let go. In Molly’s, the leaf was choosing to hang on. I was, and am, making the choice to hold onto those old patterns, those habitual reactions. But it’s possible to not do that anymore, to let go and choose another path.

It’s the lesson I have to keep learning in different ways — from my friends, from different therapists over the years, from my meditation practice, from the galleys of self-help books I’ve read, and today, from Molly and a tree. I don’t have to hang on to those branches that are no longer offering me sustenance. I can let go. I can float down into the earth where I will be absorbed into the soil and transformed into fertilizer for new growth next spring.

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