Why the Cottonwood Gave Up Everything for Spring.

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I would like to believe myself a descendant to some wise old bird aware of the terrors of being a poet in his time—or maybe just always consumed by some obsessive work. In his time he would pass up the expediency of machines or the draw of making a family to seek joys in his words. Near his death, he walked away from our world remorseful by the amount of attention he gave to his work. He would advise me—and I can almost hear that voice—“Look up from your craft. While it is beautiful, so too is the source to your inspiration.”

In his after-life, he still speaks to me like an old man tells stories from his seat, near and rich; only one who has wings of a bird and a tongue of a prince could hold the words it takes to describe as many horizons as he has seen. But in every end to our evening, he reminds me the take life simply; unlike the poet, “that a life scrutinized calls attention to the wrinkles of our skin instead of the smiles that made them.”

Who knows. Maybe it was just my future self offering premonition.  Or perhaps, and most likely, I was just hearing something in the wind.  Lately, I’ve been listening to all too much and that nonsense of believing all too much.  Lately, I’ve become anxious over the what to do-what to do.  For me, all that worry is routine.  I feel like I should have a sense of how to handle the confusion by now but context changes and therefore so does the novelty of the after occurring panic (it could be that I just forget things, as I do).
There are somedays that I feel I most certainly miss, and completely get misunderstand, what it is I need to do in these times.   Those days work and passion tastes like stale bread and friendship is a dead hallow tree.  Fortunately, I have a bookmark left in the old pages of this common story.  It is somewhere in that chapter that begins with “Do you remember?”  And I do! I do! I do remember what that chapter was about but all too often I forget (I told you I forget things!) the details of almost everything important.

There were two mentionings in that chapter on how to calm my restless and all-too-often anxious mind: the first notion tells to laugh; the late Tadadaho Chief, Leader of the Haudenosaunee, Leon Shenanondoah, wrote in his book, To Become a Human Being; “We’re always to have a Good Mind.  If our mind is clouded, how can good decisions be made? Laughter clears our mind and reminds us of the creator.”  Too much distraction can keep our attention from listening from the source.

I wondered if there is specific laughter, as if coming from a certain place of the heart, that Leon Shenandoah is referring to in his message. In those quiet, isolated periods of my life, the ones without much interaction, I can be tickled by some passing moments.  Tickles are cute, but aren’t always enough to make some space between that tight, suffocating skin covering my heart when it so desperately wants to breath or sigh.  I wouldn’t be laughing in that rich jovial rejoicing tone, the sort that comes from a familiarity of spiritship, of commonality through challenges, and knowing the previous and on-going records of our story—gosh, there’s nothing quite like someone who knows you through the shit and shine, huh?

I’ve known of this second idea but haven’t found the words to explain it until today. But there is something I can do even in my mostly solitary environments right now; this is the second lesson: it is that something along the lines of  giving love in spite (purposely, I’m leaving that line hang on the preposition). Before then, I had thought that it was giving gratitude; but while, sure, gratitude does indeed settle my mind it is also derives out of a very basic and vast force: love, or remembering how love is the foundation to all of our other prospects, giving love in spite of the challenges or giving love in order to confront the challenges; or as Haitian-American flutist,  Nathalie Joachim, spoke in regard to the beauty of Haiti in her interview with Krista Tippet (yes, I am an On Being fan…judge me),  “there’s something about the constant spirit, the can-do spirit of — even if everything around you has crumbled, there’s a hope that you will find a way out of it, and the first step in getting out of it is by giving love — not by seeking to take from anyone else, but by giving in a moment when you have nothing left.”

I mean, think of the context: my life does not possess quite the same gravity of what Nathalie Joachim may be implying in her statement of Haitian culture, but nevertheless, there is a teaching and a meaning that can be distilled in everything we’ve heard—even if it was the wind that told me to look up earlier today, if it hadn’t, as in if I had ignored it, wouldn’t I have missed the cottonwoods giving up the last of their leaves so eager and excited to depart their misery and proclaim, “Here is spring! Here is another year!”

Whether it is gratitude, laughter, hospitality, or this driving force behind it all, love, there are foundational parts to our livelihood that ground us—it is that mysterious pulling that runs the thread along and after after each needle prick—oh pain, how odd it is you can bind us together, and the belief in it all that we are all moving on for a better life.  We are laughing at the absurdity of adversity and struggle, we are loving and finding warmth in spite of the cold and miserable mornings—Look, life may be confusing, pissy, or scary; and you know, it is.  You may have never wanted this but you are here all the same.  So pay attention to what you’re experiencing.  Nothing good comes out of the state of mind of fear, anger, or worry. Do what you can, find it if you must, to get back to what anchors you into this life, grounding or clearing or loving—whatever it is you wish to call it.  From there you’ll sustain or find that love that emboldens the bravery to be like the oaks, the beech trees: the marcescence that suggests the trees to be steadfast in their long winter patience and fasting, and like them, much like this cottonwood I wrote of earlier, to know when the time is right to drop their leaves and prepare the bedding for a new life.


“ [The song] ‘Lamize Pa Dous’ actually translates to ‘Misery Is Not Sweet.’ And it was a way of simply stating that “I’m not well at this moment; and I’m in this place, but I’m not of this place, and I plan to find life elsewhere.’ ”

—Nathalie Joachim

Listen or read the transcript to the interview between Nathalie Joachim and Krista Tippet here through this link.

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