The Love Tree
Given that the birth of Christ is not cause for celebration in communist China, to plunge myself into the spirit of Christmas, I decided I should have a tree. My daughter, Alice, sent me a Christmas box with candy canes and a string of lights, sage, and stovetop stuffing for the Christmas dinner I would cook in a wok.
Sometime in November, I found a dead branch lying in the grass below my apartment. It was the perfect size. Happy, as if I’d found something truly exquisite, I carried my tree into the apartment lobby. While I was waiting for the elevator, the mother of a Chinese teacher who lived above me entered the building. Seeing me stand there with, what looked to her like a dead tree branch, her eyebrows scrunched together turning her otherwise, smiling face into a puzzling frown. I grinned, “It will be my Christmas tree,” I told her. She didn’t have a clue what I had said, but she shook her head up and down as if she understood completely.
She motioned for me to get on the elevator first. As it ascended, she looked the tree up and down, searching for some magic (or any purpose) in it. At my floor, when she got out to let me and my tree, pass, her skepticism was still plainly obvious. “Well, I said, it’s a little early, but “Merry Christmas.” I smiled.
I told my staff about the tree, and my neighbor’s confusion. We all laughed. A few days later Sarah, my teacher’s assistant, presented me with a string of tiny birds she had folded with ordinary lined note book paper. “Maybe you would like it on your tree,” she said quietly. That was the beginning.
By Christmas, the branches were full of assorted sizes of birds and red hearts. They swang from the branches, some solo, some in vertical chains. But that wasn’t all. My openly affectionate, female students, gave me precious love notes, funny cards, and trinkets. I added photographs of my family, and bows from presents. No longer a dead branch, my tree was a testament of love-alive with the energy of good wishes.
Long past Christmas, the tree was still collecting memories. At the end of June when it was time for me to leave, my friends, Vivi and Eeta came to say goodbye. Vivi hugged me and asked, “Do you mind if I take the Love Tree, Ruby? It’s such a beautiful thing.”
The discarded, dead branch had been resurrected into a symbol of sharing and love. It’s a story for both Christmas and Easter that I’m pretty sure Christ would’ve appreciated.