A tree is an icon of strength and fortitude, always enduring, and always finding some way to yet again burst forth into new life. In short, it is a survivor. In my grief, what can I learn from this tree?
Someone I love has died. I can’t concentrate on my work. Nothing seems to make sense. In my aimlessness, I find myself gazing out my office window. At first, it is a blank stare, but gradually I realize that a grand old tree dominates my view. Even though my office is on the third floor, the tree towers above me. In fact, I can’t see the top without getting close to the glass and straining my neck upwards.
I stare in wonder, as if I’d never seen such a thing before. This marvelous intricate composition of nature frames my view of the sky, with roots anchored in the rich earth and tips reaching to the high heavens. I wonder if I can be as strong and resilient as this worn and weathered old tree, or at least if I might gain some strength from its presence.
I ponder how the tree reliably marks the seasons, continually changing its clothing to suit the weather. I have seen it sparkle with ice, pirouette in the breeze, bloom in foliage, rustle with life, put on a show of color, and then gracefully let go to expose its underlying structure. It has survived season upon season, and has undoubtedly both “seen” and endured a great deal. Gnarled and twisted branches give witness to its age and power, and it seems content to let the scars and ravages of time be displayed as badges of honor.
It gives of itself without even trying, just as part of its nature. Swarms of birds fly through every available opening, sometimes alighting for a moment’s rest and sometimes taking up residence. People relax in its shade, and take pictures of its beauty. As the tree processes the carbon dioxide it needs to live, it releases pure oxygen into the air, free for anyone to breathe in fully. When eventually it dies, it will provide wood by the truckload.
On an uncommonly windy day (and when the Windy City has an uncommonly windy day, you know it’s pretty bad), I have seen the tree’s branches, especially those that were weak or dying, blown to the ground. Yet the tree held fast, even when the wind was joined by a driving rain in a furious storm burst. It is an icon of strength and fortitude, always enduring, and always finding some way to yet again burst forth into new life. In short, it is a survivor.
In my grief, what can I learn from this tree? Can I survive, too? A few possibilities:
- How willing am I to be flexible, to change even what I believe is a pretty good in response to what the situation demands of me?
- How astute am I at reading the signs, knowing that the world is changing and preparing myself for a future that will undoubtedly come?
- Can I let go of my weaker branches and even my outer appearance when necessary, or am I too concerned about hanging on to everything at all costs?
- Do I cling to the pretense of always “having it all together”, or am I willing to admit my weaknesses, even willing to show my scars and wounds to others?
- Do I give by my very nature? Have I cultivated an attitude of gracious hospitality and unfailing care for all those I encounter, without judgment or exclusion?
- Am I grounded and confident enough to withstand storms of doubt and criticism in order to do what I believe is right?
The questions go on and on. If only the answers were quite so apparent. As I recognize the questions and particularly as I search out the answers, I hope that like this marvelous tree I may stretch and grow into the person I was created to be.