When I was a boy of 8 or 9, I was walking through the woods in the mountains near home with my Father when we came upon a large tree that had been cut to clear the path. My father pointed to the rings at the cross section where the tree had been cut and asked if I knew their significance.
I gave him the conventional answer telling him I knew the rings of the tree reflected the tree's age. My father said that was right and then he expanded that observation in a way I have never been able to forget.
"If you look closely," he said, "it can also tell you something of the tree's history."
Dad pointed to a narrow band near the tree's center.
"That tells you this was a tough year for this tree. If you count back the rings and determine the date you will probably find that it was a dry year or that the tree faced some other challenge to its growth. Conversely, the broad band tells you the tree had a year of expansive growth."
"But what is most important is the pattern," he said. "Broad bands almost invariably follow narrow bands. That's because in the dry years and difficult periods the tree had to put its roots down deeper in order to survive."
Like the tree, we are all at times challenged and pushed to the limits of our existence. If we are to survive and grow, we must reach deep and draw on the best part of ourselves. Those who cannot find a purpose in their pain are diminished by it. Those who do are enlarged and strengthened by the process.