Ginkgos and Band-Aids

By Dan Conaway

LOOK FOR THE WONDER. REPEAT. Right outside my window is a female ginkgo tree, her boyfriend is on the other side of the house, and every fall they engage in an ancient mating dance, a spectacular competition for attention. So exhausting is the effort, it doesn’t last long. So intense is the result, it’s explosive. And then it’s gone, leaving only a memory.

One morning they’re both green. That afternoon they’re a bit less green. Overnight, they turn. The next morning, they shed light, a brilliant yellow that doesn’t so much stop you as arrest you, so bright it shines through window shades and burns off gloom, a yellow that turns every other yellow green.

And the next day, it seems, it’s all gone. Their leaves fall as one, leaving the host naked and alone, covering the patio and everything on it with their loss.

“Watch your step out there,” Nora said, “the dogs just left a message in the ginkgo leaves and I got it.”

So it goes. One day, it’s all beautiful. The next day, it all turns to crap. Or maybe that’s not the message at all.

My immediate family has been visited by death, near death and deadly threat, by deceit and heartbreak, by cancer in varying form, by Alzheimer’s and plain old dementia, by diabetes, alcoholism, kidney disease and kidney stones, emphysema, bankruptcy, divorce, blown dreams and blue toe, broken bones and torn muscles, curved spines and fractured vertebrae, stupid mistakes and senseless loss, rejection and reflux, gum disease, blood disease and general disease.

And that’s just up to now. And I’m due for a check-up.

But we’ve also been visited by each other, by shared experience and gained appreciation, by children and grandchildren, by a lot of friends and a lot of delightful silliness, by unforgettable moments and uncontrolled laughter, by faith and hope, and love. And by waking up today.

We’ve been visited by the privilege of life, the gift of perception, and the opportunity of choice.

Last weekend, the 1-year-old was bleeding on several adults and three dogs, on everything and everybody, as she screamed her way around the big room. The very tip of her index finger had been nipped by errant fingernail clippers and she was a fountain of misery. A bit later, she was wearing her very first Band-Aid and a very big smile as she held it up high and waddled across the same room to proudly show it to her grandfather.

All better now.

The ginkgo trees are regarded as living fossils, literally writing their history in stone dating back almost 300 million years, some claiming to live more than 2,500 years. And they’ve done that dance every one of those years a few billion times around the world, and right outside my window. To see the wonder of it, I only need to look.

The ginkgo trees don’t leave you with a memory, they leave you with the promise of their return.

I’m a Memphian, and, this week, I’m especially thankful.

Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at dan@wakesomebodyup.com.