You’ve heard the term, “Can’t see the forest through the trees,” right? It refers to someone who can’t see the big picture, because they are too focused on the details. The term typically describes someone who is short-sighted and does not value a larger purpose or have the foresight to consider a broader point of view. The phrase has largely negative connotations. While this universal meaning is valid, I’ve come to believe that the most valuable moments in my life happened when I was concentrating on the “trees” and not the “forest.”
Important milestones are usually accompanied by grand occasions. Graduations, weddings, and child birth (to name a few) all are celebrated and rejoiced as the meaningful and important events they are. We celebrate these events with our families and friends. We document them through pictures and social media, and talk about them long after they have occurred. They are the moments that we aspire to, relish in, and get nostalgic about years after. Even moments like “baby’s first steps”, a teen getting a driver’s license, moving to a new city, and receiving a promotion would be moments that I consider “forest moments”.
Of course forest moments don’t just describe happy, celebratory times. Forest moments include the loss of a pregnancy, the loss of a spouse, a divorce, a major betrayal, or a number of other tragic events to which human beings are vulnerable. Forest moments are the big picture moments that have placed us on the trajectory of our lives, whether planned or not. They are often unexpected. We can look back on these moments and understand, whether good or bad, how they have impacted our personal life story.
But what about the “tree moments”? What about those seemingly small, insignificant occurrences that go unnoticed by the outside world and only we can see? For instance, the most heartbreaking forest moment of my life was when I lost a son at 21 weeks pregnant. It changed me in ways I both understand and may never understand. It was big. It was unexpected. It was acknowledged by many people.
However, the other most heartbreaking moment of my life involved a bottle of Suave shampoo. Yes, you read that correctly. About three weeks after my mother passed away, I was staying with my dad. He had lost the woman he loved for over 40 years, and the forest moments of the funeral, and the flowers, and the casseroles, and the thank-you notes were completed. I told my father that I had forgotten shampoo and I was going to run to the store really quick. He jumped out of his chair, ran to the bathroom, and came back with an empty Suave shampoo bottle. He slowly handed me the empty bottle and asked, “Do they have this where you are going? Would you mind getting me some?” His face was so sad, and I realized that for 40 years my mother had been buying my father’s shampoo. He didn’t know where or why or how often, it was just always there. “Sure Dad, I’ll get you some. You can get this kind in any grocery store or Target.” I then went to my car and sobbed. This will be one of my most heartbreaking memories. It was subtle and small and–to an outside observer–completely insignificant. For me, it broke me.
A forest moment is your daughter going to her first formal dance. A tree moment is watching her pull self-consciously at the strapless bodice of the “grown up” dress she was so eager to wear.
A forest moment is your son’s first little league game. A tree moment is seeing the sudden blush of his cheek when he swings and misses the first pitch.
A forest moment is your daughter getting the doll she has begged you for on her 8th birthday. A tree moment is seeing the half-second flash of embarrassment in her face that only you as her mother notices, when her friend explains that “dolls are for babies.”
A forest moment is your son’s first band concert. A tree moment is noticing he is scanning the crowd to find you.
So yes, I will continue to race toward the big moments in my and my family’s lives. I will look forward to, remember, celebrate, fear, and sometimes mourn the larger and grander moments. But I also will remember to live the forest that is my life. I will be partial to those little moments, those seeds that no one else can see, but have been firmly planted in my heart.
What are some “tree” and “forest” moments you have experienced?