I gaze out the window of my third-floor man-cave all of the time. It grounds me somehow, reminding me that there’s a larger world out there. During this pandemic, such a message has been neither simple nor superfluous. It’s the spot from which I’ve steadily Zoomed for a year. I’ve watched seasons come and go from this attic retreat. The leaves change, fall off, come back. I’ve watched the snow falling and the rain beating down. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end… you get it.
But this morning, I looked out the window and saw something new and beautiful. The wind began gusting like crazy! As it did so, I watched in awe as a cloud of cherry blossom petals flew past my window. This veil of petals seemed possessed, majestic in movement, graceful as it twisted in the air.
I planted the cherry tree from which these blossoms launched 24 years ago. My father-in-law, Herbie Weiss, brought it over. “Here you go, Keithy!” he exclaimed as he handed it to me. I hadn’t asked him for it. Frankly, I didn’t want to plant a tree in the front yard. I had visions of a flower garden for my new home. I didn’t want to add shade to the yard. I did not want to deal with the care and maintenance of a tree, no less a fruit tree.
But it was Herbie, standing there with this tree. It was his way of celebrating our arrival in Newton. What could I say? He was so exuberant, so sure it was just what I wanted. Of course, I took it from him and planted it.
The cherry tree is so big now. And yes, its shade causes problems and mars my grand plan for the garden. The cherries that grow on its branches are too small to eat – though the birds and the squirrels love them.
There are times when I thought about cutting the tree down (with apologies to George Washington). I would say to myself, “Someday, when Herbie is gone, I’ll cut it down.” After all, a gardener cannot afford to be sentimental. A good gardener will pull out weeds and flowers and bushes that are choking or overrunning the garden. That’s just the way it is. There’s a time to plant and a time to uproot that which has been planted.
I recently walked around the tree, thinking about how the canopy will continue to spread. Yes, the cherry blossoms are beautiful, but… I could use the space. I could use the wood for a table or a nice fire or something…
Herbie is gone now. Six months ago today, we buried him in that out-of-nowhere snowstorm on October 30th. It’s hard to conceptualize what it means to lose a loved one as measured by time. The funeral was six months ago. In this era after Herbie, I see the places he used to be in my memory, in my heart. Of course, for my wife Liza and her siblings, the places are so many and so deep.
Time is like fine-grained sandpaper, slowly rubbing away recollections and images. This is not disrespectful or selfish; it’s just true. This is the nature of memory and the human psyche. It’s why the Jewish tradition encourages us to remember our loved ones who have died with a yahrzeit memorial candle, a light bulb next to a name, attending a Yizkor service. It’s a way to spur our memories as we keep flowing with the river.
All day as the winds have continued to blow, I’ve watched cherry blossom petals. And every petal reminds me of Herbie in a sweet and gentle way. Sure: I could cut the tree down. I could make room for new flowers, expand the garden. But for now, I’m going to leave it alone. And I will remember when Herbie handed me that sapling as if it were a prize. Memory is bigger than a garden.