‘Rejoice with us…Enjoy thine own bright life in the fresh air.’
I’ve heard a saying that goes something like this: life is lived forward but understood backwards. It’s been attributed to Soren Kierkegaard, but I don’t have documented evidence.
The title character in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Fir-Tree” experiences this phenomenon in fairy-tale fashion. It whittles away it’s life wishing for more. It spends it’s younger days wishing it was older while the birds, rabbits, wind and sun of the forest tell it to kick back and enjoy itself right where it is. It only begins to understand the happiness of it’s life in the forest when it’s chopped down. It spends one glorious night getting decorated for Christmas, hearing the story of ‘Humpty-Dumpty’ told to excited children only to get thrown into a dingy, dark attic the next day. It retells the Humpty-Dumpty story to many, many mice over the course of several days until he tells it to a couple of rats who don’t think it’s such a great story. Through all of this, the Fir-Tree never understands the good times until they are gone.
The story of Humpty-Dumpty intrigued me because in this version, Humpty-Dumpty doesn’t just fall down but he gets put back together again – and marries a princess. Using the story of Humpty-Dumpty, Andersen seems to bury the theme of renewal somewhere deep down in his own story. The Fir-Tree’s continued looking back on it’s life covers over a story of renewal – and hope- buried somewhere way deep down – beneath the burning embers of a flame.