Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Magic Trees

On my porch there are two potted trees (not just one!), waiting to be planted. But don't tell anybody.

Our Palm Sunday musical featured Tree #1, which represented the branches placed at the feet of Christ a week before Easter. But really I just wanted to grab people's attention with a giant tree in the middle of the sanctuary.

Tree #2 was a sneaky replacement prop for Good Friday. We bought this tree larger, and trimmed it to match the first tree's shape. Then we cut off every single leaf. It stood stark and bare for our Friday evening service, a symbol of death and the cross.

Tree #1, bushy and green, returned for Easter morning, newly filled with blooms to symbolize the resurrection.

This illusion involved me carrying trees back and forth to a hiding place in the back yard of an associate who lives next door to the church. Yes, I carried my tree-cross over my shoulder just hours before we commemorated the crucifixion. It was painful, thought-provoking, and I'm sorry, but darkly comical.

There's your back story, so let me get to the point. After Easter, this wiped-out music director went on a week's vacation and forgot all about the Easter Tree. It sat unwatered for days in a dark sanctuary until I rescued it, along with the “dead” tree hidden next door to the church. They're now on my porch. Tonight they gave me a handle on the mess that's in my head.

You see, the Easter Tree looks awful. It was cared for and made beautiful for one special day, then discarded and forgotten as a stage prop. And that's what I do – like a magician – I show you something evocative and poignant, and make you cry while I sing you an Easter song. Meanwhile the ugliness of my Good Friday tree is hiding somewhere behind a fence, because it's messy and unsightly and I'm ashamed that I can't really make it come back to life. But I'm an artist and a shaman, and that's what you pay me to do, isn't it?

So I find myself tonight recognizing a shade of a Madonna-Whore complex in my feelings towards Linsey. (Maybe the limited intimacy in our relationship wasn't just her idea after all.) I present her with a carefully edited version of my needs, a simple and wholesome package of easily palatable human desires. Then I take whatever's left, and hide it in the darker, grimier corners of my life, where no one will see these more shameful needs spilling over, soiling my dignity.

But in sobriety I've learned this doesn't work. I can't meet my needs (for affection, intimacy, play) with images and intrigue. Nor can I destroy them through anger and will. Either path leads, inevitably, to relapse. Instead, I have to look at my needs, which for some reason involves self-loathing and disgust, and what's worse, I have to show them to Linsey. And until this last year, the process generally ended there, with me cursing my vulnerability. But things have changed. Significantly. When I expose my needs to Linsey, when I allow myself to adore and be adored, I find I'm no longer alone.

This mutuality in our love has been unfamiliar, satisfying, even occasionally transcendent. But I can never say, “Good job, Eli – You chose to connect rather than isolate.” Instead, I usually spend the morning after feeling sick that I exposed my needs and desires rather than shrouding them in composure and reserve.

And here's where the tree comes in. Not the Easter Tree that withered from neglect, but the Good Friday tree. The one we we almost killed by stripping its branches of all color and dignity. Though painful, the exposure left it pruned for growth, and vibrant green buds now fill every twig and branch.


  1. But its not about us. Its about you and you living a *real* life. A life in honesty and light. And from the blog entries I read on your blog it sounds like that is exactly what you are working on doing. Forget what they pay you to true to yourself. It serves everyone well, especially you.

  2. Trees have an amazing way of springing back. And maybe with a little watering, yours will too.

  3. and life begins again, stronger, newer, fresher than before.

  4. Listen to Syd and Cat.

    Gardening is a miracle. Especially in sobriety. I've learned how to live by tending my yard.

    Pruning is one of my favorite things to do. When something's been neglected, it usually needs a lot of crap cut away to let the sun inside.

  5. this is a beautiful post. wow, what you have done here, and the thoughts. lovely. thanks. i haven't read before so I will have to catch up on your story. thanks for reading me and for your kind comment, it gave me much to think on as I head to rest tonight. peace, and best wishes. hope to hear from you again...mile 191

  6. Eli, what I find fascinating is watching your marriage grow and mature. It took me 20 years of marriage to stop looking at my husband and wondering why I had married someone so beneath my elevated plane of thinking.

    Now I wonder how in the hell he put up with me all these years;)

    Your writing is a pleasure to read.