Lessons from the Lemon Tree

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

We have a ten-year-old lemon tree in our living room that has been prolific for the last few years. She has seemed so happy. In the summer we wheel her outside and when it freezes we bring her back in to sit by the patio windows. At her peak she had a full Meyer lemon and nine little babies on their way. In the last few weeks she seems to be suffering. Her leaves are yellow and she just seems sad. We have a lot of plants in our house and my partner Nancy is a doting caretaker. When one plant seems to be suffering she'll move it near a plant that is thriving, kind of like a healing babysitter. I'm wondering if we need to wheel the lemon tree toward a friend.

The lemon tree makes me think about the little potted plant in the movie ET. When ET was on his last legs, literally dying, we watched the plant dying along with him. I remember it so vividly, the fading glow of ET's heart and the wilting leaves on the plant. ET's little soul was intricately connected to the plant's. We watched ET, and the plant, come back to health as ET's alien family came closer and closer to earth to bring him home. I was thirteen the year ET came out and I could have watched it one hundred times. I loved that movie.

Is our lemon tree mirroring what's in our hearts right now? Is she responding to what is happening in our home, but also in our universe? I woke up this morning slowly remembering what reality looks like, piecing together what my day and week and months ahead will look like. I wonder if we, like ET, are finding our way back home in some kind of scary, tragic, convoluted way. I wonder if the slowing down, hibernating new daily routine many of us are in is actually healing us beyond simply not contracting and spreading Covid-19.

Sometimes I imagine the ripple effects of this slowing down-- in our house and our neighbor's house and in all the houses on our block and neighborhood and city and state and country and universe. In trying to protect ourselves and our neighbors and all the people beyond, it is as if we are creating a giant lullaby for the planet. I envision us all becoming a little bit quieter, breathing a little bit more deeply and slowly, thinking a bit more before we take actions, simplifying the activities in our lives, and it feels like we are gently cradling the earth, together, finally realizing that we have to hold her more carefully, more thoughtfully.

Even without all of the environmental benefits of this collective slowing down, I feel like the different energy coming from this new normal is a salve on the planet. In this new normal we play games with our teenagers. We forgive each other more readily. We bring food to our neighbors. We FaceTime our family and friends for no special occasion. We dress up for dinner because, why not? We go on walks. We water color. We create new recipes. We consider how hard this must be for her or him or them. We learn new songs on the piano. We play ridiculous games with the dog. We try to keep our brains sharp by reading a little bit each day. We are so easily grateful for what we have and for each other. We pray every day in our own way that this will be over one day and, on the other side the world will be a kinder, more gentle place for everyone.

Maybe the lemon tree will turn around. Maybe her leaves will stop yellowing and she will get happy again. Or maybe she will stay on this path for a while, struggling, tired, gathering what she can from her roots and her leaves, doing the best she can.  Maybe, like us, she is hibernating a little bit, shutting down, regrouping, preparing for what's next. Maybe in a few months the lemon tree will look differen