Have you ever seen an image and had it resonate with you? Like the metaphor or similarities were created only for you, at the moment you were to see it, the poetic imagery that would then stir the emotions inside you?
That is how I felt when I viewed the few hundred year old tree from the side of the enormous root system protruding out of the ground on my casual hike through the nature preserve. I couldn’t use words to describe the bizarre kinship I felt, but I snapped a quick cell phone image and kept moving while I considered it.
The giant pine was grounded well in thick nutrient rich soil, the base of the tree almost six feet in width, and my sixth grade outdoor school guesstimate had taught me a lot of rings, means the tree lived a lot of years. I wondered how did a massive tree become uprooted? A lightning storm, disease, flooding, old age? I could only imagine that it came unexpectedly. Something so strong and deeply rooted, overturned possible in a flash of lightning. I couldn’t help but feel like nature had created visual imagery of the way I felt on the inside.
The truth is, there is no putting it back. There is no undoing what has happened. The tree is left to create a new story, even if the new story is not part of the original plan. I wonder about how often, or rather rarely, the plans we make actually go as we have scripted. Life is messy, and one of the only things we can bank on to happen is change.
I wonder when I started to tell myself the false narrative that I could have a perfect life if I followed all the rules. I taught my children all the things, I was a good example, I was a part of our community and participated in every school function. When do we start telling ourselves that lie? Watching Disney movies? When do we fool ourselves into believing tragedies only happen if you do something wrong? That they will not happen to us if we pray enough or believe enough? We believe the lie that we must be flawed as a person or a parent if tragedy befalls us.
Almost to further prove my point, the next day at work I found that Covid had broke the happiest person on Earth. I work with a nurse who I have see smile and blow off the worse of the intolerant patient, surgeon, and most terrible work situation. She ends each day asking if there is anything she can do to help you before she leaves and insists you have a wonderful night or weekend. She starts off every morning with Gooood morning in a sing song type voice, way before my coffee has set in. She asks if you need a hug anytime she sees you looking down. You would think that would be how all nurses are, but honestly I can assure you that this is a rare find, at least in the operating room.
More popular is the mixture between sarcasm and 7th grade locker room humor to get through the days of extreme stress, though our underlying commitment to our patients is always first and foremost. On this day though she quietly asked to go home. I asked if she was sick and she said she couldn’t quit having moments of being tearful. It was like someone broke Disneyland, the happiest (nurse) place on earth. With all the social distancing she found herself alone day in and day out. She couldn’t give hugs or receive them and all the news with death and sadness had left her feeling distraught. We talked about the fact that taking a moment to cry or tear up is ok. It’s become my new normal. It’s ok to take a moment to splash water on your face between patients, it’s ok to take a moment and dab your eyes. We are human and having emotions is in our nature. I also gave her a much needed hug, a very long much needed hug. I consider it a nursing treatment. We talked about things she could do at home, maybe a kitty, more communication through FaceTime or another platform. She was having trouble living through her new normal, one that had been thrown at her without warning. It was obviously not the same as losing a child, but it was a feeling I could relate to and it broke my heart to see someone so full of joy, broken.
As if nature was following up with a second act, I ran across another unusual tree on my next hike on my daughter’s birthday. The tree I ran across grew parallel to the ground. It looked like it had seen many years and was covered in thirty or more very large knots. Knots are imperfections from stress, the changes in it’s environment and also what makes this tree so beautiful. The stress causes weakness in the structure of the tree. This tree had nothing but knots from the trunk up at least three fourths of the way and then two branches, that grew straight out of the knotted tree as if they were coming out of the ground itself.. There was beauty in the imperfectness, the deep lines, the dark rich color that was created over many years the drastic difference in the angle of the tree and its remaining branches. I was having another moment of comparing similarities as I examined the way the tree survived in an unusual manor each stress to its core. The irony of my two youngest (sapling) survivors standing next to it was not lost on me.