One of my moments of connection came in January of 2003. I was looking for hope and found it in the form of a small tree.

The war drums were beating in our country. All of the rhetoric from Washington D.C. said we were going to invade Iraq. This, on top of the continuing bleak economic situation, seemed to have taken the last gasp of hope from many people. No matter where I was or who I was talking to, the prevailing mood was apprehension and even despair. People were afraid. To me, the fear felt like a blanket draped over all of us. We were all huddled underneath that blanket, waiting and helpless.

I began wondering how I (and others) could shake off the negativity. I decided to start watching for, as I called them, "signs of hope" - positive things that would help me reconnect to my Self and to my belief in the goodness of others. When I began actively looking, I did find those signs. A street musician was playing "Amazing Grace" on a steel drum. Instead of walking past, I stood and listened. A man in a hot pink leotard was riding a unicycle down the street. I laughed and remembered what exuberance felt like.

And then I took my dog for a walk and found that hope was literally just around the corner.

 

 

Clementine and I were on one of our usual routes. She was nosing around on the sidewalk - picking up her messages, as dogs do. Lost in thought and waiting for her to move on, I glanced across the street and everything stopped for me. I was stunned. I saw that a sidewalk tree was decorated with tiny holiday ornaments. This was not a Christmas leftover. It hadn't been decorated when we passed by a few days earlier.

Tugging on the reluctant Clementine, I quickly crossed the street to take a closer look. The tree was so young. The branches were just twigs, most of them no bigger around than a pencil. On those bare twigs, someone had carefully hung dozens of little balls of shiny red, green, gold and blue.


I'm not sure how long I looked at the tree. I was overwhelmed. I was crying. I saw it as a gesture of hope and comfort amidst the sea of fear that surrounded us. It was exactly what I'd been seeking. Someone had decided to light a public candle in the darkness.


That island of hope was fragile and small, but I was determined to hold on and invite others to be there too. I hurried home and emailed a description of the tree to some friends saying I had found something wonderful. I asked, "What island of hope can you start for yourself? How many people can you invite to that island?"


Here are two of the replies:

"Here I am, Sunday evening working on tax returns wondering: should I take work home with me or not? At that very moment your email came through, like a shining light, reminding me to take care of myself and the importance of remembering what gives my life value. So I'm going home now, to my daughter, with something wonderful to share. In doing so, I know that this something wonderful will continue to grow."

Stu in New York wrote: "There are a lot of evergreen trees in very large planters in the Times Square Partnership area. I think I'll gather up some decorations and see what reaction I get -- I'll have enough for others who want to help. Maybe we'll get arrested, but if that happens my strategy will be to ask the nice officer to help me decorate. See what you started?"

The next day, I wrote a "thank you" note and attached it to the tree with a red ribbon.

Clementine and I continued to visit the tree a few times a week. While it looked fragile, it was actually quite resilient. The tree and most of the little shiny balls survived a fierce rain and wind storm. But about a month after I found it, all of the decorations were suddenly gone. I imagined them boxed up and tucked away in a closet. Even though the tree was bare, I knew the branches would soon be filled with the leaves of spring. Now I was carrying hope in my heart.

(c) Jane Allen 2004

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