I always thought that trees lost their leaves in the fall because they were unable to support green foliage during the cold, dry winter months. This may be true. However, when New York was hit with several inches of heavy, wet snow this weekend, before the trees were able to shed their leaves, I saw that this is not the only reason. In my small town not far from New York City, we received only a few inches -- practically nothing compared to the several feet that upstate New York and New England received. But still, even here, everything from small shrubs to large, decade- or century-old trees lost limbs. Trunks were split down the middle, entire trees were lost, under the weight of the frozen water sitting on broad leaves.
I have heard that November is a month for goodbyes. The leaves go, and the trees prepare for hard times ahead. Last night, as I jogged through my town and surveyed the damage from the storm, still blocking off streets and lined up on curbs, I thought about stripping down in preparation for hard times.
I know people who are evergreens. Their friendships and other aspects of their lives are slender, with a fine point. Not too much energy is invested in any one thing, so there is always enough. Maybe these people do not strip down for hard times. I, however, find that I do.
When times are rough, friendships are shed, unable to withstand infrequent attention or splintering under the weight of water. Some relationships can't endure periods of silence as we hunker down, or incessant talking about The Difficult Thing that is never far from your mind. Sometimes the relationships can't survive the lifestyle changes that accompany The Difficult Thing: Sorry, I can't go to the brunch place we always went to; $80 is still $80 even if it's prix fixe and a bloody mary is included. Sometimes even jobs, money, homes are lost, as all attention turns to physical or emotional survival in its barest sense. People who have gone through the death of a loved one, a job loss, a difficult divorce, trouble with a child, all know of this. Entire lives get stripped down to their essence.
The interesting part comes, though, in the spring. You find that a friendship you thought was a fragile bloom is in fact a stalwart pine. Or that a friendship you thought had died out had secretly been storing energy underground in a big, frozen tuber, ready to re-emerge as soon as you are. And new friendships burst from buds in the new room created by the old friendships that died out under the harsh conditions.
As I say goodbye to the leaves this November, I am reminded that the stripping down has a good purpose. As Kathy and I reach the end of some of our Difficult Things, I am already looking forward to the spring.