by Sylvia Robinson
- I threw out some dead pine and holly branches today. They had been lovingly
arranged in a pewter pitcher many months ago at Christmas time. They were
alive and green then and I loved what they said in my room. You wouldn't
think they could last so long but they did. Well -- in a way they did. As
the life gradually left them, as imperceptible as evaporation, they took
an a wholly different appearance which at first I barely noticed. The needles
came to wear pale brown edges and while the holly obstinately held its prickly
shape, the sharp, green leaves had deepened toward black; their berries
which had been such a merry red now clung to the stems in dark and wrinkled
clusters. What does it matter, I thought. The colors are different now,
to be sure, more subdued, but surely still lovely, aren't they?
- Yet I really wasn't sure of the answer to that half-felt question. The
branches had become so familiar in my room, such a habit, that it was difficult
to see them clearly. Gradually I came to perceive them as a kind of sculpture.
I suppose seeing them that way made me forget my reason for putting them
there in the first place and so I could postpone having to let go of a habit.
Had I been more fully aware, I might have realized much sooner that the
arrangement I was so determined to hold onto had become dry and dull.
- However, as I passed those branches many times a day I began to be aware
of a vague disturbance within me, as though a feeling was trying to make
itself known. There was no question -- the essence had long since gone from
them. Slowly I came to sense that this inner stirring was -- and this is
the closest I can come to it, I think -- an impatience with dead forms.
Once or twice I considered throwing the branches out but felt pangs of regret.
And yet a small truth was coming closer to the surface of my thinking --
a small green truth that I needed and welcomed. It said: You can't hold
on to something dead and at the same time look toward and reach for life.
Too much of that holding on is merely remembering what was, or worse still,
what might have been.
- In how many other areas of my life, I wondered, was I holding on to a
dead thing, to the embodiment of some former dream, allowing it -- well-preserved
and lifeless as it is -- to take up space that should be used by living
- So I finally threw out those dead branches. By holding onto a form that
had once held life I had been, in a way, disloyal to life itself. With leaves
it's pretty clear what needs to be done, but what about those other branches
of my life that sometimes need pruning?
- It's often hard to know when an action, a pattern, a relationship, and
the dream inside, has lost vitality. Maybe it helps to be so in tune with
life, with the green part, that you just know when the arrangement has become
a sculpture. Sculpture has its place, of course, but it's life that grows,
sculpture doesn't. And leaves aside, it helps to know that you can breathe
new life into old forms if it's life you love more than the forms.
- I walked into my room just now and my face insisted on smiling before
I was aware of telling it to. I had responded instantly to the lovely new
presence of green on my table. I guess what I've learned from my foliage
is that loyalty to an idea -- love and life, for instance -- can help us
to throw out or change the forms that no longer embody it. And that takes
courage. I'm respectful of just how much when I remember the length of time
it took to part with a bunch of leaves that had long since accomplished
all they were ever meant to in my life.
- Some people think it's holding on that makes one strong. Sometimes it's