The power of hope

Will you bear with me for one last post this season about Christmas trees? I promise it’s about more than just the tree that’s sitting out on our lawn waiting for the yard pickup tomorrow. It’s about the power of hope.

I had a hard time undecorating from Christmas this past weekend. I mean a pouting, near tears, really surprisingly difficult time. Only reluctantly did I take off the ornaments and pack them away, knowing that the tree couldn’t stay up much longer without starting to shed its needles. But for some reason, I didn’t want to let go.

There were actually several reasons. One – this tree was the quite simply the best tree we’ve ever had. We picked it out at a Christmas tree farm in the North Carolina mountains, where signs were plastered everywhere thanking us for participating in NC’s agritourism business. That was a new term for us, but we embraced it as a suitable description for marching around a hillside full of trees trying to pick the perfect one. Once we picked this one and the guys brought it down the hill for us, they called it a “fat boy.” It was really, really fat. I worried it would swallow up the room we were putting it in. 

When we finally got it in the stand (mostly through sheer will and ingenuity on my husband’s part), we knew we’d have to put more lights and more ornaments on than usual:

In all its glory

The second reason I had a hard time taking down the tree was the pang of guilt I felt about having it cut in the first place. It’s one thing to go to a farmer’s market or roadside stand selling trees that have already been cut, but another entirely different matter to go have one cut from the spot where it has stood growing for years. This is only the second year we have picked a tree from a tree farm, and I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to participate in this sort of agritourism again. I really think our tree had plans to grow up to grace the governor’s mansion or maybe even the White House. But it gave its life to cheer our house instead.

The guilt only intensified when we dragged it out to the curb Monday night, where I cannot ignore it:

Cast away

My desire to keep the tree couldn’t trump the practicality of needing to get it out of the house, though, and thinking through the struggle made me realize the third reason I was struggling with letting it go: it had symbolized my hopes for the season.

This was the first year we hosted my brother and his family for Christmas, instead of us driving over to visit with them while they stayed at my parents’ house. I wanted everything about this Christmas and their stay with us to be wonderful, including the tree. Its fragrance inviting family into Christmas celebrations, its lights twinkling a warm welcome and its decorations helping to recall fond memories of Christmases past.

Once I recognized that it was about hope, I could let the tree itself go more easily. . . because hope is a thing with feathers, and it cannot be tamed. It cannot be kept tied to a dying Christmas tree. It does not look back at the past. It faces the future with an uncageable freedom, and perches on any ready branch and sings to those who will hear it.

That’s what many of us celebrate most about the coming of a new year: an uncageable hope. Hope that – no matter how fabulous or miserable our past year has been – our year ahead is filled with promise and wonderful moments and goals achieved. Even my tree sitting on the curb offered a small bit of hope today, as I noticed that nature was already redecorating it:

Nature decorates with sweetgum ornaments

I met hope in two other, especially beautiful places today that I want to leave you with:

  • My friend Jerel Law writes of the power of hope after a year of grieving his wife’s death.
  • I heard this podcast of author Andrew Solomon describing his journey to find artists in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. (It’s long, but I hope you’ll take the time to listen.) One of the men he met there said he was glad Solomon would bring this story back to share, because of “the moment of hope when … we were all so joyful and had such belief in what we thought was going to come” (Andrew Solomon, The Moth podcast).

I think that statement perfectly captures the power of hope: the moment when we’re joyful and have such a belief about what is coming. What do you hope is coming for you in the year ahead?

2 thoughts on “The power of hope

  1. You're right, Chris! Hope and joy often go hand-in-hand, and I was spellbound by the artists' zeal for embracing a newfound freedom, even carving out a way to stay together within a still restrictive culture. I love how they all broke curfew without breaking curfew, just so they could stay together and enjoy the making of their music.

  2. Wow! The podcast is a little long, but what a powerful story — not just about hope, but also joy and freedom. Definitely worth listening to the whole thing.

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