Sunday, January 31, 2016

2/1/16—Being In The Moment

I was out on the front porch with Kizzie watching the sunset and taking pictures to post on Facebook, as I so frequently do, and I had a thought that never really occurred to me before.

It was about being in the moment. By that, I mean the Buddhist principle of being fully present in the moment. That means you're not thinking about your ongoing list of places to go, people to see and things to do. You're not thinking about something that happened three minutes or three years ago...or something that might happen next or far into the future. You're not worrying about money. You're not wondering if that chick actually looked in a mirror before she put that horrific outfit on. You're just there. Fully engaged in the present moment and all it encompasses. You're letting the moment inhabit you.

I think most people like to think they're in the moment more often than they actually are. Many of us get good hunks of it the work we do. Most forms of meditation are in the no moment. That's part of being in the moment. It transcends time. It's also quiet upstairs when you're in the moment. There's no chaotic head chatter in the moment. We're all there as often as is possible, because it's the place that feels the best. But we're all probably not there near enough. Dogs and babies are good at being in the moment. The rest of us drift in and out to one degree or another. 

None of that was my novel thought, however.

You might think I'd be in the moment a lot when I'm watching my sunsets, but the truth is, I'm not. At least not in the way a person would think. I'm not sitting there absorbed in the shifting colors of nature's glorious paintbrush the whole time. Rather, I'm frequently engrossed in trying to capture its essence on my camera. And when I'm not doing that, I may be caught in the moment of day turning to night—not so much the sunset as what the birds and squirrels are doing and how all the humans are arriving home and going about their evenings. And when I'm not doing that, I might be in the moment of communing with the universe for guidance or enlightenment. And when I'm not doing that, I'm likely to be completely distracted by random thoughts, and not in any moment at all.

So, I'm watching the sunset with this train of thought swirling in my head. And then I become caught up in the moment of photography. After a couple of minutes of seeing the sunset through the camera lens, I caught a glimpse of the actual sunset and thought, "I'm going to choose a different moment to be in. I'm going to be in the moment of the actual sunset." It's so silly, but it hadn't occurred to me that, in any given moment, there is more than just one moment to be caught up in!

When I'm taking pictures of the sunset, I'm in the moment of photography. I'm seeing the sunset in a different way, than just sitting there and viewing it. And the only thoughts on my mind are of how I'm framing a shot, what all the camera is seeing and how I'm working my camera. I'm sure my brain fires very differently when I'm in the moment of sunset photography than when I'm in the moment of  sunset communion.

At any given time, there's another moment right next to us that we could just as easily choose to become lost in. But we're usually so caught up in the moment we're in that we don't step out of it long enough to consider other moments we could be in. And when the moment we're in is over, we don't usually go looking for another moment to be in. We just return to our miserable, chatty, disengaged default mode of a life. :D

I don't know what any of us are supposed to do with that information. But while being in the moment of a sunset conjures certain images, there are so many ways to be in the moment of a sunset because there are so many different aspects of a sunset experience. We can focus on the spectacle of the sunset. We can focus on the sunset as the subject of a photoshoot. Or as the trigger for changes in the animal kingdom. Or as a reflection of a neighborhood's patterns. Or as special time shared with my #1 son. 

There are so many moments to be in, no matter what you're doing. And maybe realizing that and seeing your usual moment from a different aspect could change everything. Who knows?

Also, switching from moment to moment is a perfectly valid strategy. And looking for other moments to be in is a great alternative to just getting distracted by chatter when we find our thoughts drifting. While I've always felt I had a good understanding of the principle of being in the moment, I guess I hadn't really considered all the options. And I think a part of me also thought something like photographing a sunset was cheating in a "being in the moment" sense. But it's not. 

I suppose I just really hadn't thought of any of this beyond, "it feels good to be in the moment." But I already see this new knowledge/thought benefiting my "being in the moment" moments and I'm spending less time out of the moment because of least when I'm outside in my favorite places with my favorite pups. 

It's worth considering all the options you have to escape your out-of-the-moment head when you become consciously aware that you're not in the present. If you find yourself distracted while trying to have a moment with your gardening, for example, you could focus, instead, of the feeling of sun against your skin while you're gardening. Or on the chirping and wildlife around you. Or the clouds passing by. You could turn it into a different awareness altogether. And you can know this moment is uniquely yours—a moment only memory can capture. You just have to be conscious enough to claim it. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

1/25/16—Breathing Fresh Air

So you may have heard about Snowzilla, the massive snowstorm that hit Washington, DC. It was a full-on blizzard, gripping the region with crippling snow.  It also gave me a good lesson in letting go. 

You know how it is, it's snowing a couple of inches per hour and you know you're going to get at least two feet of the white stuff. So you're champing at the bit to get out there and clear the walkways. That's how it goes for me. I can't relax until I know I'm up to code. 

But until you've stared down that much snow in blinding winds and cold, you don't know overwhelming it can be. Especially if you're still adjusting to your chronic asthma. 

So there I was, clearing walkways front and back as the snow came down. I did that for the first six inches or so and then I had to stop. My body—my asthma—was telling me to stop. I had to let go. 

I had to let go of "the strong me" that might get exhausted and might hurt her back, but could finish the shoveling. We had a storm similar to this 7 years ago and I managed it then. But I wasn't going to manage it now. 

I also had to let go of that person who is determined to handle everything that needs handling on her own. That's a tough one. That's one I've been learning a lot over the last couple of months as I needed my brother to handle the fall leaves for me and as I needed people to care for my dogs and home when I was in the hospital. 

Lately I've been learning to let go of a part of me that has defined me and that I took great pride in. And I guess I'm surprised it's not harder for me to do. Sure, there were a few tears when I realized I wasn't going to be able to keep up my shoveling through the night...haha. Tears because, while life is SO much easier than it was for the past few years, even with my inhalers I'm going to be limited going forward. I mean, I'm seeing the edges of what is possible within the confines of the disease, and it's fully livable. But I just can't overdo it anymore. 

That's so funny to say, isn't it? "Waaah, poor me. I can't overdo it anymore!" Haha. It's not a huge disappointment, but it is something that is gone and has ended in my life. And I'm still feeling out the edges of what I can and cannot do. When I'm fully drugged up, I can do most of what needs doing around here. I'm sure I can mow my yard. I can clean up leaves, although that would ruin me for the rest of the weekend—the allergy triggers seem to take the most out of me. But those are the "new ways" I'm learning, little by little. 

I was gifted with a fresh chance a couple of months ago and I was given back my hope and my  life and my ability to move through this earth. I am incredibly grateful for that and I just keep feeling better and better. But that didn't come without limits. And I'm learning what those are over time. 

I usually have a hard time letting go of things, but I'm finding it really easy with this. Part of that is because I'm just so happy that there was a livable answer to the misery I struggled with for so many years. But part of it is that I'm digging this new health of mine and  am good with the compromises I have to make to stay here. Things like deep cleaning and raking and shoveling (btw, I was able to shovel a great deal of snow in the back to create potty trails and a circuit for the dogs to run in, and I did that pretty well, so I'm not useless. :) ) may limit me some, but nothing limits me the way I was limited all those years I was sick. And nothing limits me like thinking I've got it all figured out does, either. So gaining perspective makes letting go easier, too. 

What I'm learning from all this is that it's nice letting someone else take the load. I'm so new to that. But I'm realizing the value of it, finally. I never fully appreciated it before. And we're all going to come up against increasing limitations and an increasing need for help as we get older, so I'm just getting a head start. 

I might have thought all that would torment me. But as I sat in my living room eating a brownie and chatting on the phone with my sister today while the neighbor boy was toiling over my walkways, I have to admit: it didn't really didn't bother me at all. Letting go lets fresh air into your life. And if there's one thing this asthmatic appreciates, it's fresh air.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

1/18/16—Seeing Through the Eyes of Others

I had a whole other topic I was writing about tonight, but it just wasn't pleasing me. So I went looking for a "classic" post to put up for this evening and quickly came across this one. It just happens to be from this weekend last year. And through no coincidence, I'm sure, it happens to contain insight into the topic I was originally writing about. The universe never ceases to amaze me. 

Anyway, here it  is...

I bookmarked a conversation I had online way back in early December and am only now getting around to writing about it. It all started with something a friend of mine had read on Humans of New York.

For reference, I'll put what the gentleman who was interviewed said here:

"I always remember my mom having this hardness to her. Even if you were at the other end of the house, you could feel her presence. Not like a monster, but kinda. She needed everything to be just a certain way. She'd arrange the towels perfectly and didn't want anyone mess them up. She'd keep these detailed notes on money and daily activities and even her bowel movements. It was a diary of her anxieties. She always needed everything to be just a certain way, and she always had such a hard tone to her voice. But I loved her. I remember walking into her room shortly before she died. She was curled up in bed because she had very bad scoliosis, and she looked so small and vulnerable. And next to her on the nightstand was a picture of her as a little girl, standing with her own mother. And it made me sad, because I knew that little girl had never wanted to grow up to be a ball of anxiety." 

My friend who posted this posed a really interesting question—"how do we get to be who we are? Is there a way back to that little girl we once were before "things happened" that turned us into someone else, some we don't want to be?"

So after marinating on this for a month and a half, I've kinda concluded, for me, this is what our spiritual journeys are about...finding some essence of who we were before humanness rained down on us. And there's a second part to all of this that has to do with forgiveness, so read all the way to the end. :)

Back when I was a kid, I was a troublemaker in school. I was bossy and argumentative, stubborn and just generally a pain in the ass. I remember there was this boy I had a crush on, so I'd knock him upside the head when I'd pass his desk in second grade. That got me kicked out of that class. Then in 4th grade, I was supposed to skip a grade, but because of my emotional immaturity, I didn't skip. Then in 6th grade, I had to spend the entire year sitting behind a closet (I could see the board and all) because I was too disruptive to the other students. That was the end of me getting in big trouble in school, but it wasn't the end of me being an asshole. The ironic thing is that, while I got attention, I didn't get the positive kind of attention I wanted. And my self esteemed flagged as a result. 

Lord only knows what teachers thought about the way I was being raised. It's the kids with the bad childhoods that make all the trouble, right? But the thing is, I had a pretty decent childhood. I was just a kid who craved more attention. Both of my parents worked, I was the youngest of six kids and my demand for attention didn't meet the available supply. Not knowing how to get more, I acted out. Somewhere there was a turning point, because with low self esteem and a bad attitude, it could have gotten so much worse. I don't know for certain when that turning point came, but at some point I veered back on to the higher road. 

What I didn't realize at the time was that, for someone interested in bettering themselves and serving God and society at a higher level, this attention issue was to become part of my life's work, spiritually speaking. Back then, it manifested at tantrum level. Over the years, this need for the ego to be noticed and recognized has mellowed into things like writing long, meandering blog posts about myself. :D I have consciously worked on and let go of many "bad" behaviors around this whole attention thing. I try harder to give others their turn. In some cases, I've managed to channel the energy into something that actually helps others (like the stuff I write about). And some of the behaviors I'm still working on. 

So, to answer my friend's question, I do think there's a way back. Her question went down some different rabbit holes about being raised by someone like the man above's mother and being raised by a mother like my other words, an effed up upbringing vs. a relatively normal one. But it's worth considering that it doesn't really matter. For better or for worse, we get the upbringing that gives us our assignment/s. And the difference between Oprah and Hitler—two people with difficult upbringings who grew up to be powerful thought leaders—is whether you work on that assignment or whether you let it work on you. 

The second part of the discussion with my friend was about forgiveness and compassion. Many times when we have parents or others in our lives who are so broken by their humanness, we put distance between ourselves and them. In fact, we do this with all sorts of unsavory people, not just relatives or close friends. We do it with co-workers and homeless people and people we see on TV who have committed crimes. In fact, there doesn't even have to be a serious issue with someone. All they have to do is disagree with us on something important to us, like politics, and that's it. They're gone. 

We justify this to ourselves as doing what's healthy for us. But is it really? Or is it healthier to learn to open our hearts to these people—to see the little girl who was doing fine until humanness hit her square in the face—and feel compassion and love for them anyway? Isn't that really the healthiest, most evolutionary choice for both us and them? 

While I might not always practice it perfectly, learning how to look at the person beneath the person is something I learned about many years ago on Oprah. When you encounter someone who is different from you or who has done you harm, realize that they didn't grow up with the dream of being reviled by others. That happened somewhere along the line when life happened. And life has happened to all of us. 

Moreover, for the people who are just different from you, realize that they have the same dreams for themselves and their families as you do. Those families in Africa that live in cardboard huts...they have the same kinds of hopes and dreams for their lives and family as you do. If that child turns out to be a thief, that wasn't part of the dream. Everyone, from terrorists to saints, just want their children to be safe and happy and their lives to be as fulfilling as possible. Yeah, even terrorists. 

Which is not to say that I'm defending terrorism. There is no defending that. And some of them may have debilitating mental issues that take them out of the "everyone wants to be safe and happy" mold. But I'm just saying that compassion and forgiveness can be given to anyone, albeit it might take a master class to give it to a terrorist. Because it's not what THEY do that matters in your spiritual practice of compassion and forgiveness. It's only what YOU do and how much you can open YOUR heart. 

Remember Antoinette Tuff, the woman who talked a school shooter into giving himself up? Her ability to do that saved her own life and the lives of countless children. It's rare to find someone capable of seeing the pain in another—especially when that other person is holding an AK-47 to your face—and focusing on that pain instead of the terror that pain wanted to cause. But she did it. And she did it because she understood that, on the way to whatever dream our parents had for their family and the dream we had for ourselves, some people get woefully lost on the trail. She had the humility to look at her own difficulties and see through his eyes and see that what separates her from him was just a few choices that could have gone the other way. 

So there's a lot to think about here. Self improvement. Spiritual purpose. Forgiveness. Compassion. And even self-forgivess and acceptance. We were all once innocent babies with simple, water, shelter, love. Then life happened and all hell broke loose. The difference between you and someone in prison or their own self-sustained misery is actually a matter of a small choice here or there to hold yourself to a higher standard...a choice each of us is handed multiple times daily in life and we usually choose not to take. So perhaps you've taken enough of those opportunities to get by, but you let a lot pass you by. Even you aren't your best all the time. The rest of the world is no different. It's all just a matter of degrees. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

1/11/16—Contemplating the End

The other night I was sitting outside lamenting my financial lot in life, as well as a few other things. I'm pretty good about not wallowing in fear, but it's safe to say I was having a fearful moment. And then I heard something in my head. 

"This is not how the story ends."

Of course, we all know this on one level or another, but it's a worthy reminder. The story is ongoing. Whatever you're experiencing now is only temporary. 

In both good times and bad, I think we all have a tendency to tell ourselves our current state is "what everything was leading up to. This is what it was all about. This is how this story ends."

But that's not really true. It's how the *chapter* ends. Depending on what you believe, the story either never ends or it ends when you die. So whatever you're experiencing right now is transient. 

Now that may be good news or bad. Because you might be on top of the world right now. Maybe you've just landed a new job or given birth or maybe you're just in a really good place. It's temporary. Of course, the reverse is true, too. You might be miserable today. And that's temporary, too. 

Thirty years ago, there was a little girl who spent her childhood in and out of hospitals because she had serious chemical allergies. Between her allergies and asthma, she was hospitalized a couple of times a year. But the story doesn't end there. 

She grows up to become a successful actress, but that's not where her story ends, either. She founds the Honest Company, a company that offers hypoallergenic homecare and childcare products. Her earlier struggles in life begin to make sense. But that's not even where the story ends. Jessica Alba is a wife and mother, an actress, and the founder if a $1 billion business—a pioneer, even. But she's not even 40 yet. Her story isn't over.

So we need to understand the transient nature of things. Jessica Alba could have accepted a life where her label was "really beautiful allergic asthmatic" and then spent the rest of her life locked in a room with an air purifier. She could have decided that her story ended with her disease and that was it for her. But she pushed herself out onto movie sets where everything from makeup to the cast and crew had smells that could send her into an attack. And she could have easily decided that the story was over there. "Beautiful actress." But then she reinvented herself again. 

There is no lot in life we have to settle for. There is no limitation placed on us that we can't find a way around. Look at Stephen Hawking, for example. The man can't move his body or even talk, but he is one of the world's leading theoretical physicists. He didn't see his disease as the way the story ends. 

So whether it's something big you're facing or something smaller, know it's only temporary and it's not where the story has to end...unless its where you decide the story ends. Emotions like joy, fear, anger, jealousy, sorry, contentment—all of those are temporary states. 

If it's a good time, enjoy it while you're there. Try your best to be in the moment so you can sop up every last bit of juicy goodness. And if it's a bad time, know it's only temporary and consider the opportunity available in that moment. For example, money woes, for me, are just a matter of discipline and budgeting. That's the opportunity—a new practice that can do nothing but benefit me in the future. 

This moment is just that. A moment. And this moment can color your life in a destructive way. It can be an opportunity for improvement. Or it can be a glorious respite that you dance within. But what it can't be is the end. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

1/4/16—Letting Go and Mattering

Usually about this time of year, you see a lot of debate. People don't like to do resolutions. Or they don't see the point of intentions or choosing a theme. But it works for me. And here are a few reasons why. 

First, I don't choose anything I'm not fully on board with. So while many choose happiness or joy as their word, I won't choose that. It's not that I don't want happiness. It's not that I won't experience joy in 2016. It's that I have other things to work on.  

But, and here's a very important consideration, if I were to choose happiness, I wouldn't expect happiness to just happen to me. I would keep happiness in my mind as often as possible and remind myself that happiness is a choice. And I would choose happiness over whatever else it is that I was feeling at the time. I would seek new things that make me happy. I would look for ways I sabotage happiness in my life. I would live my life in such a way that I'm prone to more happiness. I would WORK at happiness...maybe not 24/7, but, in general, I would be more aware of my state of being and how to change it to something more gleeful. 

I think a lot of the reason why people give up on choosing a word or resolution is either a) they choose an aspirational state they're not prepared for and b) hope that state happens to them without having to put forth effort. And sometimes, they c) just choose to work on too much. I know I've done that in the past...made a list of 10 things I wanted in the new year, then promptly forgot them all and gave up. 

So each year I choose one word and one phrase. The word is the thing I'm going to work on in the coming year and the phrase (as it seems to be turning out) is the thing I started in the past year and want to continue in the coming year. It's less of a focus than the word because it already has momentum behind it, though it always seems to support the word. The word, though, will become my mantra and I will create a habit of interrupting my thoughts with it as often as possible.  

Last year's word was "healing". And the phrase was "hold yourself to a higher standard." The four major happenings in my life of 2015 had both intertwined. There was a family conflict that helped me heal some things within and the way I dealt with it held myself to a higher standard. All the Florida trips—a total of four—I took in 2015 helped me heal fears around leaving my dogs and fears of traveling and also helped me hold myself to a higher standard. The "one better decision" practice I incorporated into my life also hit on both areas. And then, of course, the biggest healing of all, my hospital visit, helped uncover an issue I'd been suffering with for years and is opening new paths upon which I can hold myself to a higher standard in my life. 

Now it's time for this year's word. It's "letting go". Yes, that's two words, but it's the only "word" that hit on everything I want to focus on. It's the same as surrender...surrendering to the universe's plan and to whatever is washing over me at the time. But surrender doesn't quite hit on releasing, which might be releasing habits or dreams or attitudes that limit me. And releasing isn't quite the same as abandonment, which might mean walking away from unhealthy situations. And abandonment says little about shedding weight or fears or whatever. Only "letting go" can incorporate all of that. So for all the anal people out there who think I'm cheating, bite me. Which leads to my phrase for the year...

I matter. I matter, so I could care less what you think about my word...haha. What I want for myself matters. What I do and say matters. This is a phrase that already has momentum behind it in my life. All the healing work I did last year happened because I matter. I had been treated like I didn't matter by my doctor, so I got a new one. I made changes in my personal life to eliminate certain elements of toxicity because I matter. I allowed myself to "indulge my illness" and rest, because I matter. And moving forward, I intend to consult myself first and consider my wants, rather than just accepting something because others want it that way. I'm not saying I won't compromise. Of course I'll compromise and consider all points. But I won't be such a pushover anymore. 

"I matter" goes beyond that, though. It also speaks to how I present myself to the world and what I expect in return from the world. From the way I dress to the way I respond to the actions of others to the way I "show up" socially, I need to show I matter more. And not just for the sake of others so they're "on notice that Tierney matters and won't be a pushover", but also for my own sake because, between clients and dogs and attending to the needs of life, I tend to forget I matter sometimes. I also forget that what I do and say matters to others. 

I'm sure it sounds funny to people who are married and have children, but single people tend to put themselves last, too. I put my own self care to the side for all the million responsibilities of daily life. And, having been sick and unable to accomplish everything, I accomplished what HAD to be accomplished, which was basically my job and caring for the dogs. There was often no energy left for anyone or anything else. So I need to remind myself that I matter, too. This phrase, by the way, was inspired by Iyanla Van Sant. 

So I hereby welcome in my year of letting go, with some "I matter" on the side. There will be times I forget both things. There will be times I remember, but nonetheless hold on or act like I don't matter. But here's to all the times that letting go and mattering move me forward in life. With all I've been through physically, mentally and emotionally the last few years, I have a lot to let go of and a big deficit of "I matter" to replenish. And, I believe pursuing all that will lead me to joy and happiness. 

So this is why I do this every year—not to lure magic into my life, though that will undoubtedly happen—but to focus me in a single direction with one thing to work on and one thing to keep in mind as I do so. With that, I can create my own magic and grow in the ways I need to in order to become happy and whole. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

12/28/15—Blooming in Winter

Tonight I was going to write my annual summary and choose my word and/or inspiration for the coming year. I was going to brag about how significant last year's word, "healing", was and my inspiration to "hold myself to a higher standard." Then I was going to declare my intentions for 2016, along with some advice on how to do this for yourself. But this isn't that post. So you'll have to wait. Or read last year's post. 

Instead, I'll tell you about today, a perfect spring day in the middle of winter. We have had a lot of spring days. I think it's only been what might be called "cold" once or twice this December. Which is what caused this beautiful rose to bloom in my front yard on Christmas Day. Crap is blooming everywhere right now. While we've had a lot of springlike days, none have qualified as perfect days like today, though. 70 degrees, livable humidity and a breeze strong enough to set all the wind chimes singing.

It's one of those rare days I regretted sleeping in. So I opened all the windows and spent the entire day outside. I thought since it was a spring day, I'd do a spring activity. So I weeded and cleaned up all my containers on my deck. There are maybe 35-40 containers, so it takes some time. It seemed to go faster than usual and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I'm always so far behind on stuff around the house that it felt great to get ahead on something. Even at my sickest, this is something I made sure to do every year.

Anyway, there was something about the breeze that evoked something in me. You know what I mean? The way the breeze felt as it touched my skin...the temperature, the humidity, the strength of the breeze...brought up a distant memory. The only thing is, I can usually put my finger on the memory at some point, but it eluded me this time. I sat out there with my hand in the dirt feeling this breeze and having this memory evoked, but I never figured it out. 

So I wondered if a breeze can evoke a memory from a past life or a parallel life. And I liked the thought of that. It felt like another, possibly better version of me. Or maybe I was remembering the memory I was creating...sort of like deja vu. All I know is that I was very peaceful and content. And I felt "normal" for the first time in a long time. Maybe today brought me back to where I left off before I spent years weighed down by sickness. Maybe I got through all the containers in just one day because it wasn't a chore for the first time in years. Maybe that breeze was a promise of more "perfect days" to come.

As I look around this year, I see roses, irises and azaleas blooming out of season. I see hardy annuals thriving in the middle of winter. I see my perennials poking their heads out early. Some may not bounce back from this after the freeze comes. And it will come, though maybe not as bad as usual. But that rose bush and my azaleas will do just fine. And today I got some positive signs that, even though I'm also blooming in winter, I'll do just fine, too. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

12/21/15—Decorating the Tree

Growing up, we always had a big, live Christmas tree. In fact, for a good part of my childhood we had more than one tree. There would be some sort of formal themed tree. It might have white lights and all gold ornaments or something like that...something very tasteful. And then there would be the family tree with the colored lights, tacky tinsel and all the mis-matching ornaments, each of which carried some sort of story. One of my sisters is so into trees that she does five every year. So I guess it's a thing in our family.

I only do one tree. And for the past four or five years, I didn't do any trees at all, primarily because it's hard for one person to set up a 6'-7' live tree all by themselves. And since I felt like crap most of those years, the tree never got done. It has now been almost a month since I started feeling better, so I put up a tree. I decided to be nice to myself and just get a cheap artificial tree that doesn't shed needles or need water or anything. As a result, for the first time ever, I had a tree set up in the first week of December.

I have a lot of ornaments. More than you can tastefully fit on a big, fat, live tree and way more than you can tastefully fit on a $30 pre-lit artificial tree from Target. My ornaments are more or less organized across a handful of boxes. There are three boxes with ornaments deemed "desirable" and a box or two of ornaments that are on the B Team.

In the B Team box you might find ornaments I once thought were nice, but now think are ugly. There might be a couple that are a little broken. And there are a few I don't even much like to look at. But I don't throw any of them away. They are pieces of my autobiography.

One of the best parts of having a tree, in my opinion, is putting the ornaments on. Because each has a story. My mother used to sit there as her six little slaves would unpack ornaments for the family tree and show them to her, one-by-one, so she could point to where we were supposed to put it on the tree...haha. And she would provide commentary like, "oh, that's the one you made me in second grade. Put it over there." Or "that was the one Winnie sent us." Each ornament held a piece of our family autobiography and its position on the tree indicated just how big a piece it held.

There have been years that I've purposely put ornaments on my tree that have sad memories attached to them. Maybe they were from friends and the friendship ended badly or something. But I would put them up because they were part of my autobiography—from a time and experience long passed, but still part of my makeup. Every year is a different combination of memories based on my whims when setting up the tree. And, of course, new ornaments enter the rotation yearly.

But, like I said, the decoration had kind of stalled for a few years. And I could see how much I had changed because I decided not to torture myself with any ornaments that held bad memories. Many of those ornaments are very pretty and were once favorites. They have sentimental value, but nonetheless make me think negative thoughts. 

Because of the circumstances around my father's death, very little as far as old family ornaments still exist. One small tin of my father's childhood ornaments are all that are left and one of my brothers has those. I had them for safe keeping many years back and was too afraid to ever hang them because they're glass and, with dogs in the house, you have to be careful how you hang your ornaments. 

So my personal "tree autobiography" starts with my adulthood. Every year I hang at least one of the ornaments from my first adult tree. They are all crappy little ornaments—crappy because I couldn't afford to buy nice ones and little because, back then, I always got a tabletop sized tree. Those ornaments remind me how far I've come, but they also remind that having more money now isn't making me happier. Then there are some that were gifts or remind me of others. So my sisters and a few old friends are represented on my tree and I think of them when I hang "their" ornaments. Then there's this one ornament I thought was so beautiful that I went to four different department store locations to track it down. That one reminds me of when I had the energy to actually go to malls during the Christmas season. 

And while each ornament tells a story or marks some part of my life, the whole says something about me, too. Most are handmade and unique—no plain balls on my tree. So I clearly value handcrafts and art. Some ornaments are elegant, some are bordering on tacky (a mix of the two trees we had as kids and a mix of different sides of my personality.) And many of them are fragile and require extra care when hung, lest they be knocked off by chaotic animals. Just like me. :D

When you think about it, our "family" trees are a deeply personal item. And if you're like me, you probably see the tree in someone's home and just register the basics—the size of the tree, live or fake, the overall look of the decorations, the overall impression/style/taste—then you move on. We don't tend to stand at another person's tree and wonder about the stories behind any of the ornaments. Maybe if it's a really unique one, but not usually. And it's likely the stories are a snooze-fest for anyone but family anyway. 

And yet, when you stand before someone else's tree, you're nonetheless standing before these intimate artifacts from their lives...things with the power to evoke things long forgotten. "This was from our first Christmas together" and "I got that the year I moved here from Denver" may be what you say to someone who inquires, but what it evokes within you when you say it is often a story kept to yourself. So many clues to your life hang on those branches, right out in the open for everyone to see. 

Anyway, it had been years since I'd taken that stroll through my life and I'm so glad I put up a tree this year. I also bought a number of new ornaments that will one day evoke memories of this year and this stage of my life. This year's tree was a symbol of new hope for me and when I pull out the vintage ceramic bird light covers I found on eBay or the carved red cardinal, I'll remember this feeling. What does your tree this year say about you?