A Tree to Save the World

A Tree to Save the World November 24, 2021

Truth be told, the anxiety is still bad.

I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life. It’s been misdiagnosed as a symptom of a hundred other things. Now I understand it’s a symptom of PCOS. We’re still working out getting it under control.

Last week there was plenty to make me anxious. This week there really isn’t much. We were flat broke with nothing to pay the shutoff amount on the water or the rent and the car was nearly out of gas, and the menacing neighbor was going through her extremely agitated phase. Today we’re flat broke with the shutoff amount and the rent paid and Thanksgiving nearly ready to go, the neighbor is tired, and we’ve still got half a tank in the Neighborhood Trolley. We won the race by a hair. Next week will take care of itself. But I’m still scared to death.

My anxiety means I’m often in agony inside, while going through the motions outside. People with anxiety or depression know this feeling. It’s a weird sort of double life, like being a secret agent. Nothing you’re doing on the outside matches how you feel in your mind. Outside, you’re taking a shower or picking up spilled laundry or going for a walk, while inside you’re on the rack. Inside, you are absolutely certain that the door will be beaten down by a SWAT team hear to arrest you and humiliate you in front of the neighborhood, while outside you’re doing the dishes. Physically, you are homeschooling your daughter. Emotionally, you are being led to the guillotine.

I know this episode will be over soon, but it feels like the world will come to an end first.

Yesterday Rosie, my anxiety and I went to run errands. Outside I was trying to get things done before a silly commercial holiday. Inside, I was looking for something to save the world.

First we went to the thrift store to donate some old clothes and a few stuffed animals that Rosie had never felt close to in the first place. This wasn’t Corduroy and Woger, her beloved bears who used to get into so many charming antics in her imagination; she’ll keep those forever for old time’s sake. This was just a Winnie the Pooh and a Hello Kitty she never liked. But somehow, when I handed them off to the volunteer, I felt a twinge of grief on top of my fear. All my mortality rushing over me. My only child is ten and it just might be that I’ll never have another.

I reminded myself that we were only passing along some things we don’t need, that might be useful to another family on a budget.

Will a stuffed animal save the world? No, but it might make a nice Christmas for a child who likes Hello Kitty or Winnie the Pooh. And that’s something.

Next we stopped at the Friendship Room, to donate a six pack of orange juice I’d bought when we did our big grocery stock-up last week. I remembered a formerly addicted person commenting online that the first thing she wanted in heroin withdrawal was a glass of orange juice. It was something she craved when she couldn’t keep solid food down. So when I saw the orange juice on the Kroger shelf, I grabbed it and put it in the trunk until my next visit downtown.

The Friendship Room was busy as an anthill as usual. Volunteers at the Friendship Room were bustling back and forth, helping people. They always find a moment to thank me for my donation as if it’s the best gift in the world, and they never stand still as they do so. They are constantly moving boxes, stuffing the free pantry, sorting clothing, serving coffee to guests.  They’ve already put out the Christmas decorations and the old luminous creche, which looked silly on a late fall day when some of the trees were still golden. There was a new rack of coats up on the porch, so people could search through and find something to put on for free even when there wasn’t a volunteer to help them.

The fear caught in my throat again. Fear that I was annoying the volunteers and should go away. Fear that I hadn’t done enough to help my neighbor and God was going to smack me. Fear that my gift was the wrong one and would somehow hurt someone. Fear I wasn’t worth anything.

Will a bottle of juice save the world? No, but it might make it less painful for somebody for an hour or two. That’s worth doing.

Rosie asked if we could drive up and down Third and Fourth Street an extra time, to admire the Christmas display our city just put out for the season. Steubenville is actually pretty during the holidays. Fort Steuben Park has an Advent Market selling local crafts, and the main commercial streets of downtown are decorated with an ever expanding collection of wooden Nutcracker statues. This year, they’ve also put out Christmas trees. There’s a festive tree in every sidewalk planter that used to have petunias in the summer. They are decorated with lights and laminated paper ornaments colored by the school children. One of them had pool noodles stuffed in the branches at whimsical angles. At least some of them are not artificial trees but genuine pines from a Christmas tree farm; I saw the city trucks filled with pines last week. It seemed ironic to me: planting a dead tree in every city planter to celebrate the birth of Christ and the return of holiday tourists. But they did look beautiful.

Will a dead tree save the world? Oh yes. It happened a few thousand years ago. The shoot sprang up from the stump of Jesse, and dried out and died on Calvary, and rose again. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. First, for a little while, we are stranded in this odd place where suffering happens, and there is nothing good about suffering. But thanks to the Tree, our suffering is taken up into the life of God, and has meaning.

We drove over the bridge to Weirton to go to the new Aldi store and spend the Grand Opening coupons they mailed us. That stretch of the freeway through the foothills of Appalachia is beautiful in any season: shale cliffs and trees, trees and shale cliffs, all the way out to Pennsylvania. This time of year most of the trees are bare, but here and there there is a golden tree that holds onto its red-brown leaves all winter. They look like little torches holding onto the light all through the darkest season.

For a moment, I felt safe.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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