Once upon a time…I begin this way as all truly great stories begin “Once upon a time”…
Once upon a time there was a little spout of a tree. It was planted in a straight row with hundreds of other trees. No matter which direction he looked in, there were other trees in other straight rows. But the other trees were quite a long way from him and difficult to talk to because of this expanse. As a result, the tree would while away his days listening to the wind and feeling the elements and generally enjoying his life. Many years passed in this pleasant occupation.
As the tree grew, he found that it was less and less difficult to communicate with the other trees. Perhaps it was because his voice grew deeper and stronger as he grew larger and taller. Perhaps it was because he grew closer and closer to the other trees as he grew more substantial. It was hard to say.
All of the trees knew that they were being grown as Christmas trees. They would often talk about how they were planted to be harvested one day to brighten the Christmas season of many children and adults.
Some trees much further away would laugh and call them foolish. These were not Christmas trees. They said that the trees would have shorter lives and could never wish to achieve what they, as yard planters, would accomplish in their much longer lives. But none of the Christmas trees were sad that one day they would be taken from their current home; they were excited. This was their destiny. They knew from their planting birth that they were special. Grown with care to be all that they could be. To grow as tall and straight and strong as was possible. They also knew that when the wonderful day arrived they would be ready to enjoy a short season of giving immense pleasure and joy to their family and then move on to once again become part of the earth.
After many years, and many wonderful discussions with his friends, the other trees, along came a group of men. They began chopping down the trees, bundling them up, and putting them on a truck to take them to be sold. The trees were all very excited. Some even dropped some of their needles in their anticipation of the exciting season to come.
After a long ride on the truck the one little tree was put into a lot in front of a party store with hundreds of other trees, many of whom he knew from the growing yard. Not long later, along came a family with two “little people.” They looked at several trees and proclaimed that he was their choice. They paid for the tree and strapped him to the top of their car. He waved goodbye with the wind to his friends and wished them well.
The tree listened to the little boy’s merry chatter as the family’s little three year old nearly burst with excitement to have chosen a tree. The boy was terribly concerned that the tree would not stay on top of the truck and watched it diligently through the sun roof exclaiming at the smallest shift in the tree’s location.
When they arrived at the family’s house the tree was set up to open up and stretched his branches out for the first time since he had been growing in his youthful yard. It felt splendid to unfold himself and within a day he had rounded himself out, relaxed and was enjoying his new warm home.
When the family arose the next morning they proclaimed him the most well shaped and beautiful tree that they had ever had for Christmas. The tree also learned that the other bundled child was a second little boy.
That weekend the family put thousands of lights on the tree. He felt even more grand when he was plugged in and all of the lights shone like stars in the living room.
Next came garland and ribbons and hundreds of purple and silver ornaments. He felt the most alive he had ever felt. He underwent a transformation into an elegant Christmas tree full of color and warmth. He could feel the joy that the family experienced every time they looked at him. Even the littlest child, a seventeen month old, he’d heard, stared up at him as though he was the prettiest thing he had even seen. Indeed he probably was.
Late on the second day of his perfection, the littlest child rolled beneath him and froze. He immediately began to shake. The tree tried to call out. He needed desperately to tell the parents that something was wrong with their babe. The mother noticed almost immediately and scooped the child up. She lay him on a blanket and spoke softly to him; willing him to breath and come back to her. Soon the baby breathed then slept. He was exhausted from what he had been through. The mother called it a seizure.
The other child was scared and they talked about all that had happened. She reminded the eldest son that Jamie was a special child and very sick. She told him we must always watch over him carefully and help him when he needs help and cannot call. The older child, Logan, agreed and resumed his play.
Later that night, part of the trees lights blinked and stopped lighting. The father said they had blown a fuse because there were too many lights on the extension cords. He said that he would get a new fuse on his way home the next day so the tree remained partially lit.
Over the next several days the baby would lay and gaze up at the tree and the tree would look loving down on him and tell Jamie how glad he was to be his tree. Logan would add and remove ornaments daily adding to the perfection of the tree. There were more happy moments and there were more seizures. The father stopped after work looking for a fuse, but did not find one so the tree stayed only partially lit.
The baby boy had a cough and over the days it seemed to worsen. One day, just a week out from Christmas, a nurse came to visit and sent the baby to see a doctor. Neither the mother nor the baby returned for days. The father and the older child were also rarely in the house. The tree began to worry for the baby.
Days came and went, when Christmas finally arrived the parents were home in the morning with Logan, but the baby was nowhere to be seen. The tree heard the parents speaking in lowered voices of how much they missed being with both of their boys on Christmas. It seemed that the baby was still ill in the hospital.
Christmas Day, the mother once again disappeared and the boy and the father were rarely seen. New Years came and went and still there was no family joy that the tree had experienced so readily upon his arrival. The baby’s gifts remained beneath the tree and while the mother was only intermittently home, she said that she would not take down the tree until her child could have “his Christmas” too.
People came and offered to take down the tree for the family, but they always refused saying that they wanted to open gifts with Jamie under the tree. The tree held onto his needles as best he could and remained tall and beautiful willing the baby well and home.
One late night over a month after the baby had gone away, he came home. Lots of machines came with him. The baby no longer played under the tree as he had, but he lay beneath it looking at its beauty and seeming to be happy. The tree made its best effort to pull itself together and look spectacular for the child. The child was grateful.
The tree heard the parents talking with Logan about Jamie. They told him that Jamie was very sick and would not be getting better. The tree was very sad.
The baby looked up at the tree and told him to be happy. The child said that he had known, just as the tree had known that his was not to be a long life by others standards. It was not how many years that mattered, but the joy that they brought to the family that wanted them. They had shone brightly for their time. They had taught many lessons. They had struggled to hold on and ultimately they had lost that battle too.
Some may think that they were somehow worth less because they were not as long lived. But all who really saw them for who they were, knew that although they had been special since their planting they were as they were meant to be and had served their purpose on the earth. The tree and the baby now rejoin the earth, but those that they leave behind are richer for their time here. Their lights may have flickered, but they shone brightly, they brought great joy and they taught incredible lessons. Those who opened their hearts to this child know that he was not just special, he was special.
It’s not how long we live
It’s how long we affect others.
It’s not how much time we have
It’s what we choose to give.
It’s not how big we get
It’s how many hearts we help to grow.
It’s not how long we stay
It’s the love we leave when we go.