Into White

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By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, July 6, 2008

I started writing this column 14 years ago. It had a different name then, went through a few remodels before we settled on "Significant Others." Earlier today, I sat down to write this, my last column for the Magazine, and I found nothing but white space, so much white space to fill, and no way in.

When you get like that, you should just go do something else. It does no good to crack the whip. You're not ready, or you're too lazy, or you're weepy. Oh, stop it. Go do something else. There is always a lot of other stuff to do.

I went down to the barn, got a shovel, a rake, a saw. I have decided to start with the saw. The time has come to prune the oak in my side yard. "The acorn tree," my daughters call it. They climb it because the branches are low enough to reach. Figure that my youngest is 3-foot-9, and perhaps you can see: low branches.

They have to go. We're going to put a deck out here soon, with a hole for the tree to grow through. The ground slopes down, meaning that, when the deck is built, these low branches would be at about seat level, or plate level, dangling into an otherwise superb chicken and Silver Queen corn supper.

I have my saw. Pruning this tree will be good for the tree, encouraging new growth. Good for the nearby day lily garden desperate for more sun. Good for the yard, in the scheme of things. Good for my family and our future with chicken thighs. The kids will grow tall enough to reach higher branches soon, or they can learn about ropes.

I should just go ahead and cut.

I planted this tree maybe 10 years ago. I remember when the low branches were scrawny arms. Fingers, practically. I remember them holding on to their wobbly leaves in fall, hanging on, like a teenager clinging to her parents' God. Then, the wind. Snow brought a whole new set of doubts, coats of angry ice. I remember wren after wren parking itself on the limbs for a break from winter's hunt. And then, of course, in spring the fat robins coming in for a landing and bending the poor things like they didn't matter at all. Year after year, leaves reappeared, a green so bright they would blind you with their hope. Year after year. I remember the day I saw that the branches had grown strong enough to hold a child's grasp, her foot, her whole teetering body. Good job! And now I'm supposed to just lop these things off? It seems wrong. Or ungrateful. Even though it is none of these things.

I have my saw. I should go ahead and cut. "Sentimentality is unearned emotion," James Joyce once said.

I think I didn't even have a boyfriend when I started writing this column. Or I did, then I didn't, then I did, and then I didn't again. I remember how great it was to come into this white space and speak of heartache, make a joke, spin a story. I remember the healing that happened whenever I got a letter from someone saying, "Oh, my God! That happened to me, too!" I remember a bond forming, a real bond. Complete strangers, but at the same time, kind of my best friends. Is that pathetic?

They were with me when I found Alex, got married, bought a farm. They were with me when he and I adopted Anna from China, and then Sasha. There were more than a few who wrote to say that, because of Anna and Sasha's stories, they had decided to adopt, too. That's the kind of bond you take to Heaven.

Okay, now listen, I don't do memory lane. That is just not something I do. My mother always told me, "Don't look back!" She who stomps on sentiment, pretends to be good at goodbyes.

I was tempted to fill this white space with "thank you, thank you, thank you" as many times as I could fit it on the page. In the end, that's what I leave with. I feel, and have always felt, like the luckiest person in the world to have had this space to fill each week. A privilege so ridiculously grand. I will miss it, kind of like if I had to say goodbye to my foot.

It's getting late. The lightning bugs are out. My flip-flops are wet with dew. Chores beckon.

I look at the branches. "Yeah, so, goodbye," I say, stupidly, and start with the saw. Pruning the tree will be good for the tree, encouraging new growth. Good for the nearby day lily garden desperate for more sun. Good for the yard, in the scheme of things. Good for my family and our future with chicken thighs. The kids will grow tall enough to reach higher branches soon, or they can learn about ropes.

Or, wait. They can just stand on the dinner table after the deck is built and climb the tree. Of course! "Girls, no climbing the tree at dinner!" Oh, this is going to get very interesting.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to anyone who ever dropped by and visited this page. Growth is the only way to reach possibility, adventure the path to surprise. We head out, together and separately, to run and jump and play.

Stay in touch with Jeanne Marie Laskas at jeannemarielaskas.com.


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