I’ve always been a believer in hope; in signs that things will get better. I wish on eyelashes and bright stars and lucky numbers. I worship crossed fingers and birthday candles. I have a favorite weather, a favorite street in Boston, and a favorite line in a book, which all fill me with childlike giddiness. I have always lived in little excitements, self-awarded gold stars, and optimistic superstitions. I have always lived in the things I can look forward to.
One of those things is a place I call the umbrella tree. It’s a willow tree in Back Bay, with roots in someone’s front garden, and it hangs over the brick sidewalk I walked over each day on my way to elementary school. It feels, to me, like a haven in the middle of the city: a protection from the rain, the cars, the noise. Under the shade of the tree, nothing can reach me.
When I am facing stress, the first thing I do is look for little excitements that will keep me moving forward. This year, there have been fewer of those, so I’ve relied on my tree, which, regardless of national news, global pandemics, and the junior year workload, stands strong two blocks away. This spring and summer, I could always return to my tree, my urban oasis, and feel hopeful under its leaves.
In late November, I was feeling overwhelmed under the weight of one thing or another and decided to take a trip to the umbrella tree. As the pavement sidewalk turned into bricks from one block to the next, I let myself fall into hope. After a long day, I was ready to go back to relentless optimism and wishful thinking. I was ready to look forward, to live in the next thing, rather than getting stuck in the minute disappointments of the present. When I approached the tree, however, its leaves had fallen, its branches lay bare. It could no longer protect me from the world, from the now.
I stood under the tree for a few long minutes, willing myself to think about next week, next month, next year. I tried to make lists of all the things coming that I could be excited about, but my mind was blank. All I could think about was the wind on my cheeks and the cars on the next street and the worries seeping through the exposed branches. I was forced to be completely in the now, and it felt like too much. There were no wishes or crossed fingers that could take me away from that moment, that tree, which had always felt seconds away from spring, but was now a million miles away from anything bright.
I have spent the past months and--now that I’m thinking about it, the past years--in the future. I needed to constantly find joyful moments that could push me forward because I thought that was the only direction in which life could move. That gray day, though, under my favorite tree, I wasn’t pushed forward. I was still. And although worry filled that stillness, it was grounding in the fact that the world didn’t end because I stopped looking forward for a moment. It was allowed. No voice had emerged from the sky, reprimanding my lack of optimism, of motivation. For a moment, the world was allowed to not seem hopeful.
I know the umbrella tree will return, will turn shades of greens and yellows lit by rays of sun. I know it will flower and reach toward the bricks I have loved my whole life. I know it will once again protect me from stillness. I know the spring will come, and my days will once again be filled with little excitements, self-awarded gold stars, optimistic superstitions. I look forward to those days. But I also know that right now, things don’t always seem shiny and wish-fulfilling. And that is okay, too. The stillness is okay, too.