On a day early last week, distressed and hemmed in by busyness, I walked down the road to our scrubby, half-beaten patch of woods, and prayed. I have always done this.
From an early age, I have known trees.
When I was a girl, Dad brought home a dozen maple saplings and planted them around the perimeter of our yard. He told my sisters and I it was our job to keep these trees watered. So every day I carried an ice cream bucket full of water across the yard, the water sloshing out onto my dress and wet against my legs, and poured it down into the roots of a sapling.
Those trees are towering maples today, surrounding our farmhouse with a wall of green privacy and shade. Over the years, Dad planted others. A row of blue spruce. Several black walnut transported from Indiana. Pine. Oak. Poplar. A flowering crab.
I am surrounded by trees.
Maybe my early relationship with trees is the reason I turn to them in need. They are familiar, like old friends. When I am sad, I lean against trees, and when I am in distress, I pray beside them.
What trees tell me:
Trees speak to me of release.
When I look up through trees, I see the sky, and that makes me think of God. And when I look down, I see the roots of the tree and the deep earth that holds them. And the tree breathes, standing deep within its roots–whispering sometimes, bending, sighing–but serene. The dark earth, the blue sky–and the tree is only the medium stretched between.
Last week, I looked up to the silvery bare branches of a maple and watched a robin hopping the length of a branch, the orange of its breast in sharp contrast with the gray of the tree. I thought of the pressure-cooked steam of my life, contrasted so sharply with the slow hopping of a robin along a branch, and thought that God did not intend for me to live this way. Surely I am sinning, because I contradict trees.
How not to contradict trees:
The answer is simple. Release.
Release of busyness:
Trees are slow. They build their rings one at a time, year upon year, so slowly you never see the growth–but after a period of years, you are shocked by it. “How did this happen,” you ask, “that this tree grew so large?”
I wonder when I began to carry with me such an intensity and need for accomplishment. When did I begin to think that the contributions I make to the world are so vitally important and that if I died, the world would reel? When I was a child, I had no such misconceptions. Then, I was a very small person in a very big world, and unimportant. Somewhere, I lost the knowledge that life is not an Olympics–where every movement counts and the glory goes to the winner–but only a slow building of days.
I remind myself now, “Luci, if you die, the world will not miss you long. You will fade like a ripple into a stream and be forgotten. Luci, you do not matter.”
To some, this might be disillusioning. To me it is relief.
Release of people:
Last week, besides the screaming busyness, there was something else I worked to release. I prayed for a friend, and cried. I wished to control her mind, to change it to fit mine, because I cared about her.
But I knew I could not change her.
Freedom to all people is a God-given gift, and the only response to freedom is a letting go.
Men seek for power. Women manipulate. Parents refuse to let go of their children. This is not only wrong, it usually has the opposite effect of that intended.
Trees are smarter. They fill a place, preordained, and allow the world to function as the world would function anyway, with or without their consent. Rain falls; lightning strikes; the forest burns around them.
We need to talk to the trees.
A final release:
Maybe all God asks us to learn from life, really, is this art of caring and letting go. Our lives, from the time of our births, are pointed toward a final stretch and a final long surrender.
I work in a nursing home and spend time with older people. I know that getting old hurts.
Someone once said to me, “What if we never died of old age, but could only die if we got sick or someone killed us? Wouldn’t it be nice if we never had to face getting old?”
I thought of the young bodies, going hot and passionate into the grave, and did not agree. We already kill; we steal; we make a lie. If we had no thought of future weakness and a future letting go, what demons would we become?
Old age is a time of release.
When we are old, as when we were children, we lose the sense of our own importance. We lengthen and mellow and become who we were, really, all along on the inside. We become what we built toward, ring by ring, year upon year, when we thought we were doing important things.
In the strenuous circumstances of old age–dementia and inability and illness–we are reduced to simple need. Something to eat, a place to sleep, love.
Did we ever need anything more?
When we are old, we realize this thing we never before could comprehend–that we will die. If we believe in God, we begin to prepare our hearts.
When I’m an old lady, I’ll talk to the trees. The trees understand. Together, we’ll release, our roots in the soil, our branches toward sky.