The Great Carl Rullmann and Melania Trump’s Wondrous Christmas Trees: Stumps of life that give meaning to existence

As I was admiring the magnificent Christmas decorations at the White House by the gifted fashion eye of Melania Trump I received the notification from his widow that one of my long-time friend and readers Carl Rullmann had died on Monday November 20th. She went on to say that even in his final days when he could no longer read himself, she would read my articles to him. She elaborated that Carl looked forward to everything I had to say about everything which was a nice way to put it. Because I do literally write about everything, and often deeply, which is my inclination. I first met Carl over eight years ago when I was at a meeting and he rushed over to tell me how much he enjoyed my segments on 700 WLW radio and we have been friends ever since. He often would send me private emails wanting to talk more explicitly about things I had written that he took issue with, as a deeply religious man. I enjoyed the banter and understood what role some of that interaction played in his life as he suffered through several illnesses over the last couple of years culminating in his event on the 20th. I felt sorry for his wife Rita immediately as it had to have taken a lot of personal courage for her to contact me in the way she did just seven days after. But I view death differently than most people and I found the beauty of Carl’s life to be a similar reflection as what Melania Trump was doing at the White House, and instead of feeling sorrow for a lost friend, I found joy.

This year was the first my wife and I bought a real tree for Christmas. You have to understand, my wife and I are people who keep our emotions close in check all the time and we have enjoyed over the decades the knowledge that after New Year’s celebrations are complete and we head into those cold January days with nothing much to look forward to until spring arrives, that our Christmas tree would go into a box in our basement to be resurrected the next year. She came from a wealthy family and that’s how they did things, mainly for the convenience of it. So when we were married way back in 1988 we did much the same thing, getting artificial trees that were easy to put up and take down without a lot of emotional pomp and circumstance. What I didn’t know, that really didn’t emerge until our children were fully grown and we started having lots of grandchildren to deal with, was that deep down inside she always wanted to have a live tree for Christmas.

I grew up with a live tree, each year my family had bought one going through the ritual of picking one out and then putting it up. The whole experience climaxed on Christmas Day when the whole mythology came alive to a nice end. It was always sad to take the tree down, but always extraordinarily exciting to put them up. I never remember a Christmas from my childhood that wasn’t an exciting period of my life—and the live Christmas tree was always the centerpiece. It always seemed odd to me that after Christmas my dad would take the tree out to our burn pile and we’d burn it sometime around late January and February. I’d look at it dormant on its side out in the cold covered in snow with the branches all brown and dry and wonder if it was the same magnificent thing that had been in our living room bringing so much joy.

My wife and I mutually didn’t want the emotional roller coaster of a live tree during our marriage. It gave us counsel to know that the centerpiece of our Holiday joy was always in our basement—yet the experience never seemed quite authentic. So it was much to my surprise when we were out shopping for early Christmas items when she declared, “let’s get a live tree this year.” Well, it didn’t take much for me to agree to it. We are after all empty nesters. Our kids come over for Christmas and it’s always nice, but they have their own lives these days and we are often only in it when they can find the time and will to get together. Our Christmas mornings now are very lonely and for us that is devastating, because we both always loved to have children in the house to bring mornings like Christmas to life in such grand ways. Now there are grandchildren, but we get about a half hour and it’s nowhere near the same. So buying a live tree for Christmas with all the emotion that can be involved for that Holiday I thought was a bold move for her.

I’ve watched the various presidents over the years in how they decorated the White House for Christmas because it says a lot about who they are. Back with the Clintons in the 90s there were utterances that they hung condoms on their Christmas tree because as progressives, they were actively pushing politically to replace Christianity as a guiding light for the masses. The Bush White House was more traditional and a welcome sign after the debacle that was the Clintons but that particular White House was too careful and sensitive to the progressive movement seeking to accommodate them more than traditionalists like me would have liked. Then there was the Happy Holidays of the Obama era—which was not as anti-Christian as the Clintons, but certainly wasn’t what we would call “traditional” in America. They sort of went through the motions and everyone could tell. But it wasn’t until Melania was able to design the decorating in the White House that we could see for the first time how magnificent the Executive Branch could be in leading the charge to restore Christmas to its proper place in American culture. Melania’s use of live trees and lighting was simply phenomenal, and it actually made me proud that my wife and I had decided to do a live tree this year as our personal tree has had the same kind of effect on our personal household. Because it was my wife’s first live tree she has put a lot of extra love in it knowing that the life of the tree deserved the extra attention. As she put it the whole reason the tree was raised and cut down was to serve this one purpose for just one little month of our lifetimes. Melania on the grand scale did much the same and the combined result to me was spectacular and filled me with pride and patriotism.

Of course it will be sad to take down our tree this year. And it will be sad to take down all the great trees in the White House. But the joy they provide for that very short time I think is a proper metaphor for all our lives. We are talking about the four seasons of course, Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, or conception, birth, life and death metaphorically for us all. These Christmas trees represent life in the dead of winter when life ends and renews on the first day of the New Year. It’s a lifecycle and during Christmas in addition to celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, we have constructed our holidays to serve a more appropriate and modern-day relevancy to our own existence, and Christmas trees are at the center of that mythology. They are a symbol and celebration of life in the time of death—winter. And in the case of my friend Carl Rullmann who lived a great life and was eager to learn something new right up until the end, he like our Christmas trees are wonderful to look at and appreciate. For the radiance of life that flowed through them does end and the body of the lifeform does diminish and fall away. In the case of Christmas trees we toss them out after the Holiday season for disposal, just like the dead of our human species. But it’s the celebration of their life in the times of Christmas all lit up and displayed with honor that is the point of living. Carl was one of those people and during life his lights and ornaments representing his experiences will carry on in our memories. Yes the body does die but all our lives are better because of our experiences with each other. And that is what I will always think of for now on when I see a live Christmas tree. They are beautiful things!

Safe travels Carl Rullmann on the next adventures of existence. Because like the Christmas trees we are all cut off at the stem and drinking water out of a little pot that keeps us alive just long enough. It is when we transcend that limit and drink from the waters of eternal life that our real adventure begins. And that is a beautiful thing as wall, in many ways more beautiful than life itself.

Rich Hoffman

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