My family moved a couple months ago. Although I am sad to be losing the lilacs up at the top of my page (unless my propagation attempt is successful), I have enjoyed watching the crabapple tree in our new back yard.
When we moved in, we had snow on the ground. The tree had no leaves on it, and not even any buds yet. The only thing on the tree was last year’s fruit, which looked old, dead, dried up, and just plain ugly. Last year’s crabapples served as evidence that the tree was alive last year, but when I looked at the tree, all I could see was the dead fruit. (I know that crabapples aren’t the loveliest of fruit, but bear with me here.)
It reminded me of how I saw my marriage five years ago: my marriage had functioned in the past, but when I looked at it, all I could see was the old, dead, dried up, ugliness of what our relationship had become. All I could see was evidence that our marriage once had been alive.
As we are now in the glory of spring, I’ve watched the crabapple resurrect its signs of life. I am paying close attention to the old fruit that clings to the branches. As the tree changes, so does my perspective of that old still-clinging fruit.
It parallels how I’ve watched my marriage come back to life, even with remnants of the winter of our marriage still clinging here and there.
At first, every time I looked at the tree, I thought about how much the old fruit uglified the beautiful new growth. The tight pink buds were overwhelmed by the raisined crabapples from last year sticking right out in view. When I looked at the tree, I was seeing dead fruit all over the place. I was seeing more old fruit than new life.
In the flush of new growth in our marriage, I wanted to enjoy the new growth. I wanted to focus on all the new things going on, and I didn’t want to see any of the old stuff. Yet it seemed that every time I looked, sticking out in the middle of the new growth would be all my old habits. They didn’t seem to be serving any purpose. They just hung there, forcing me to see the stuff I was trying to shed, overwhelming my view of all the beautiful new growth. I saw more of my old habits than I did of my new ones
As the crabapple began to blossom, the contrast between the beautiful pure-white blossoms and last year’s crabapples grew stronger. A tree covered with blossoms is such a glorious reminder of new life and growth. Some of those blossoms even obscured last year’s fruit—but not all of it. That pesky old dried-up fruit was not only still getting in the way, it was marring the view.
As the new version of our marriage began to blossom, the contrast between the new life and the dead old fruit was pretty stark. Every direction I turned, my view of the beautiful new version of marriage we were growing was spoiled by the presence of my old habits. There I was wanting to do a happy dance about all the growth, and the old crabapples habits just mocked me as they hung there kept rising to the surface.
Contrast was a problem only when I tried to look at the tree close-up. When I looked at it from above (aka, from my bathroom window), I was able to see the whole tree. Although I could see some dark old-fruit specks here and there, I was much more overwhelmed by the sight of a tree with the newly unfurled green leaves, covered in beautiful white blossoms, than I was by a collection of dead crabapples. It looked like a living tree, not just leaves, blossoms, and old fruit.
From the trenches of marriage growth, most of the time all I saw was the moments I had to steel my nerves, take deep breaths, or ask my husband to ask me again in five minutes. I was seeing the habits that were clinging to me, even as I saw the living fruits of my efforts begin to emerge. There were times, though, when I was able to step back and see a bigger view of our marriage. It was beginning to look like a real marriage with laughter and connection, not just a collection of habits and efforts and progress.
Even Old Fruit Is Beautiful
A week or so ago, I realized that I was seeing the fruit differently than I had been. In the light of day, I realized that last year’s fruit had a beauty in its own. I’d stopped seeing it as just a cling-on from the previous year. Even though it was dried out, I saw the deep red color and round shape. I saw the fruit’s contrast with the white blossoms as something quite beautiful. The new growth of leaf and blossom provided a backdrop of beauty to the persistent fruit. The persistence itself was admirable. What had made this fruit cling to the source of life when so much other fruit has dropped to the ground? What was special about this fruit?
I have come to see the old habits of our marriage a bit differently, too. In coming to understand the habits that had become more persistent, I learned a great deal about myself. Those habits clung and hung on while others dropped away. Learning why has given me great insight into myself and into my marriage. It has helped me see my value and uniqueness even as I try to shed those old habits.
How a Tree Grows
As I think about the life cycle of the crabapple tree, I realize that there is always going to be fruit from the year before. It reminds me that even though I can’t see the new fruit, it will come in its time. Except during the season of a tree’s first blossoms, there will always be something left from before. The blossoms are dying now, too.
Not only do I have last year’s fruit still hanging on the tree, I also have the remnants of last week’s blossoms. The leaves are showing strong right now, but the blossoms that are now covering my yard and driveway have left a skeleton on the tree to remind me that the tree is constantly growing—and that sometimes the process of growth requires a release. And I see the tiny, tiny red round thing that will grow into this year’s fruit
I can choose to see the old fruit and blossom skeletons as a sign of the tree’s failure and as a black mark against the tree. Or, I can choose to see it as a sign of persistence, a reminder of things to come, and simply part of the life cycle of the tree.
How a Marriage Grows
It’s refreshing to think of getting a completely new start in marriage—but everything we do now builds on the foundation of what has come before. There is always something left from before.
We still have the habit of last season’s marriage. They are fading away so they are only a small part of what our marriage is—but they are there, visible at some times more than others. And some of the glory and excitement from about a year into our changes has faded away a bit, too. The pure white blossoms are gone, replaced by the reminder of their former presence and the beginnings of new fruit.
After a long time of dormancy, it can be exciting to bring a marriage back to life. The beauty of the spring of our marriage can be so overwhelming that we would just as soon not have to be reminded of the old fruit that still clings.
We may be tempted to view that fruit as bad–yet that is the fruit that was persistent. It is the fruit that the tree hung onto to carry it into its next season, even through a time of dormancy.
As we move forward, we will continue to experience the on-going living and growing of our marriage. After all, marriage isn’t a dead a static relationship but one that reflects the living of the two people in that marriage.
As you grow in your marriage, pay attention. Appreciate all the signs of life. If you look closely enough, you may even see the promise of the fruit to come.