The Ornaments in Back

ornaments in the back

This year I decorated the tree myself. My husband was traveling and I wanted to get it done and put all the boxes away in time for his return, in lieu of dragging it over several days, which usually happens. I figured it would be a nice surprise and wanted to take on the decorating solo. He often likes to include slightly broken ornaments he’s patched up or other things he’s attached hooks to and christened tree decorations. This year, I made the choice to leave those behind in the box.

For me, Christmas is for calm and beauty, and a warm relief from life’s cracks and tarnishes, and I like ornaments whole and intact. They say less is more and they are right. Less clutter, less broken stuff, less crowded situations are all more calming, more engaging and uplifting, at least for me.

As I began decorating, I hung my favorite ornaments first and later filled in the back with the others. I caught myself doing this as I have for years and realized that wasn’t exactly fair. They’re all worthy of sharing the tree so why separate them and instead just start hanging them as I pull them from the box? Every year it’s the same and I feel sort of bad for the ones bringing up the rear, as if they feel it too. So I hung some nicer ones in back to balance things out.

I remember junior high PE class and the waiting to get picked for a team. The popular girls got to do the picking and they picked their own kind. The rest of us stood there anticipating who’d make the cut, hoping our wait wouldn’t last long and we’d quickly make the team and move to the other side. I didn’t enjoy standing around, being judged and picked over, yet there was a comforting camaraderie with the girls standing alongside me, also cold and wearing the unbecoming PE uniform.

As a little girl, I used to select a few stuffed animals to sleep with me, some under the covers down at my feet blocking the gap where the sheets are tucked in, lest a monster slither in from under the bed, and the lucky few who would share my pillow. I did this selection each night while the still, stitched eyes of the animals looked back at me awaiting their fate. It was exciting to have such choice and to be able to change things up on a whim, but it was unnerving to be picking who would join my cozy bed and leaving behind those who wouldn’t. I changed up the rotation a good bit but still felt bad for the ones I didn’t choose.

There was that uncomfortable feeling of the haves and have nots and my role in their fates. It wasn’t until I became older that I started thinking more about the animals not picked, whether stuffed ones sealing a child’s bed or real from a local shelter, and those 7th graders who felt passed over during the picking. How can we know a person or an animal, stuffed or real, from its exterior and then go about choosing one, and why does physical appearance seem to weigh in so heavily?

My own dog, a rescue, is often judged by her beautiful cream coat and dark lined eyes. People stop me on the street wanting to get close and touch her, and hope she’ll in some way acknowledge them too. I often wonder if I picked her because she’s so striking; certainly, that played a role. But beyond her beauty, I sensed a gentleness, that she’s an old soul, and it didn’t hurt that she interviewed well.

They say be the person your dog thinks you are. I’m pretty sure my dog can see through any façade I might have created early in our relationship — like the notion that our twice daily walks would always be at least 45 minutes or that she’d get to sleep on my bed when my cat person husband wasn’t traveling. She accepts what she gets and savors every morsel. Yet she also keeps me in check, calls me out with a nudge of her snout or a bark when I say I’m ready for a walk yet am still buried in my computer. I like that she knows me, flaws and all and always chooses to be in the room I’m in. I’m nowhere near as pretty, but she doesn’t see beauty; she only sees love. We need more like her.

When de-Christmasing my house recently, I took a closer look at the ornaments I’d relegated to the back of the tree, and began noticing that I’d added many good ones in back this year. Was it to keep the others company or improve the back of the tree’s second string image? With our tree against a bay window, you could argue the back is the front, that is if you’re walking up to the house or viewing it from the street. It’s interesting what we choose to show and what is actually seen.

What is it about the front line, the first row, that coveted spot which always garners attention? I remember when my second parent died I remarked that the front line had gone down, and was surprised at how vulnerable that felt. I had been in back for years protected by a parental shield and now with it gone, do I step up or stay in back? Without knowing I was front line potential, I largely stayed in back, and one could argue I’m still there.

I’ve come to realize front line potential is mostly about perception. By virtue of becoming a parent you are indoctrinated into the front line club, ready to step in front of a bus, anything, if it means sparing your precious child. Ornaments in the front on a tree are naturally the ones we look at, yet any of them can fulfill that role in front. By merely being on the tree, perhaps they are equally vital to its beauty? We can all step up and be on the front row, on the front line. I’d love to see a reversal and start placing the plainer ornaments in front and the fancier more colorful ones in back. Or randomly co-mingling them one year. The change up would do the tree good. Ornaments too.

When Tuesdays allow, I always try to get to Pilates class at the Y early enough for a space on the front row. I want to shine there and I adore the teacher. There is no trepidation, no hesitation; it’s a safe place and I don’t want to miss a thing in back. As I do for that class and for that teacher, I’d like to step out front more, yet be able to still find satisfaction in back. On an airplane, as I pass the first class who always look so comfy with drink in hand and doting attendants buzzing nearby, I often wonder if they could enjoy the trip in back, stripped of decorations, still on the same ride and to the same destination.

Instead of defining who or what is in front or in back, could we consider that maybe we are all the same — ornaments, people, animals, stuffed and real? We can be confident and shy, bold and reserved, beautiful and plain. The duality within us gives us balance. We’d be better off trying to play all roles well and being comfortable in our own skin and in the places we find ourselves. We are not the sum total of where we are or what we look like, and are far more than what is seen. If we could resist looking around for the better place, we might relish each moment where we are. Imagine.