One frosty December afternoon in my childhood, while jumping with a friend on our backyard trampoline, we caught a glimpse of our Christmas tree in the back window, spinning around slowly like an antique merry-go-round. We jumped off the trampoline to investigate and discovered our two dogs, Jake, the yellow lab and Evie, the black and white shi tzu had pulled one of the strands of lights off the lowest branch and were pulling the tree around in a circle. After 2-3 revolutions the 12-foot behemoth wobbled, tipped and crashed to the ground shattering all the glass ornaments that my mother had painstakingly hung. My friend and I thought it was pretty hilarious. My mother did not.
Last Sunday after a weekend of both spiritual and secular fire ceremonies, I finished my meditation, closed sacred space and headed downstairs. Halfway down our Christmas tree toppled over for no discernible reason. Rosie, our blue heeler and Homer, our tenant’s Chihuahua, were nowhere in sight. It fell completely on it’s own, as if it had been waiting for me to walk down the stairs to witness its dramatic bow.
At first my mouth hung open in shock. Then I sat on the stairs and began to cry. Granted my pregnancy hormones are in overdrive, but never the less, some deep grieving sadness burst forth when the tree fell over. I grieved the loss of the perfection my son and I spent hours creating. I grieved the loss of childhood Christmases with huge family gatherings and magic in the air. And for some reason, the face of my best friend who passed a few years ago pressed itself into my mind- the biggest loss of my life thus far.
I wept, on my knees, sopping up piny water with big bath towels. My husband looked confused and concerned. “Are you okay?” he asked. “No, I’m really, really upset.” Sometimes that happens, amidst all the hustle and holiday cheer, sadness grips us like a mugger and holds on for a while taking something from us that we loved and so wanted to be permanent, reminding us once again that nothing is permanent. This is the nature of existence.
In her book, “When Things Fall Apart” Pema Chodron writes, “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Eventually the crying, which lasted far more than any dignified optimist would hope, stopped. With the water dried up and the pine needles swept away I thought of the sand mandalas created by Buddhist Monks. These intricate and ornate patterns, etched with colored sand, take weeks to create; and when the monks finish, they bow to them and blow them away. While they understand that this disappearance is also perfection, I imagine a tiny ache still lives inside them for what is lost.
This week, Yoga Works Union Square, a place I have taught for six years, will be closing forever. Many students have been taking class there since before 5^th Avenue was lined with athletic wear shops and the Flatiron saturated with fitness studios. Our community is being asked to blow away the beautiful mandalas we have created together for so many years. I closed my second to last class there by having everyone say their name, so that whether or not their teachers had ever personally addressed them in class, their name had been said in that room at least once. That too will vanish from the physical plane, but the connection we shared will live on.
While I was teaching, my son and his babysitter rehung all the ornaments on our Christmas tree and tidied up the twinkle lights. I had to laugh, because I know that none of us will remember last year’s tree- perfect and unwavering, but just like the tree that our dogs pulled down in my childhood, we will always remember this one.
Things come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. This is how it goes. The healing is in our ability to make space for it all. May your Holiday season be filled with the perfection of impermanence and the joy of being present.