Finding Quiet in a Fallen Branch

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This morning I am reminded of a variation of the age-old question “If a tree branch falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? “

Working from my home office gives me interesting insight into the world. From my 2nd floor perch in Cambridge, I have a wonderful view of the outdoors. With windows on 3 sides, I can look down the street and in the distance see the cars travelling down Mass Ave. Depending on the season and time of day, they can be moving quickly, stopped in traffic, inching cautiously because of snow and ice, or more likely these days, slowed down by construction, including unending pothole repairs. (Ah yes, the summer road bumps in Boston are a direct reflection of the historical winter we had!)

However, if I look more closely and slowly, I watch a parade of characters walk by. Again, depending on the season and the time of day they walk slowly or quickly. There are college students that walk by in packs, parents walking with their young children on the way to the local elementary school, young professionals with ear buds, tote bags in hand, and comfortable shoes on their feet on their way to work. There are older people pushing shopping carts. Many people are carrying coffee, talking on their phones and otherwise very focused on their destination.

This morning has given me pause. Sometime while I was away last week (a story for another time), a very big branch fell from a tree onto the sidewalk. Although the branch is not totally blocking the sidewalk, and not really in anyone’s way, it does look odd. I am not yet sure whose responsibility it is to remove the tree. If I learn it is ours, it will go “on the list” and become one of our next activities. In the meantime, I am watching people’s reactions to the tree. Most people don’t notice it until they are on top of it. They are walking down the street in automatic fashion, focused on either themselves or their destination and then are literally “stopped in their tracks” as they approach the broken branch.

I love watching people react. It forces people to slow down. They approach it and look around wondering. “What is this?” “Where did this come from?” I know that many of us, including myself, operate on autopilot. We wake up day after day, make our coffee or tea, begin our day, and then rush around from place to place, checking things off our list. In New England, in the winter, the rushing keeps us warm. It is how we survive. However, as we move into the heart of our summer, it feels important to counter our default and try and slow down. It feels crucial to take breaks from our regular routine, to find ways to disconnect from the bigger world, to quiet some of the extra noise in our lives, to be present – truly present with those we most cherish, including ourselves. This is the time to put on that “oxygen mask” and make sure that, whether there is a tree blocking our path or not, or whether it made noise when it fell, we find ways to slow down, take deep breaths and notice the beauty and wonder that surrounds us every day. If not now, when?

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