This is what I see looking up from my perch. It’s midday and this Japanese Red Maple shades me from the bright rays of the sun. I feel free, safe and protected here in my sanctuary. I am sitting still and my mind is still, but sometimes stillness isn’t enough. Sometimes I seek stillness plus “presence”. It’s a presence I dare not define because I cannot. If I try to give it a name, it gets too small. I came to know this presence long ago. Will you journey with me back in time when I often sought this nameless presence, and yes, it was under a tree. 🌳
It was a graceful willow tree in the field next to my family’s red brick house. Early in the life of this tree, the smooth trunk split into four outstretched branches that were low enough for me to climb, and strong enough to support my weight. I would sit there in the palm of this tree when the world became too loud, too confusing and full of injustices. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself. I grew up in a large extended family with a lot a voices and mine didn’t seem to count. I often felt dumb, insignificant and sometimes invisible. So I often visited my tree-sanctuary to feel connected to something bigger than myself. There I felt nurtured and loved. I felt connection. When adults did not make sense, there was a presence that offered me insight. When people in my house yelled at each other too much, I found peace and harmony. And when my world got too scary, I found strength and hope. It was there that I prayed and I knew I was heard. 🌳
Maybe it was inevitable that visits to my tree-sanctuary would dwindle with time and eventually stopped altogether. I was growing up. The tree kept growing too, without much attention from me. There were occasions though, when I’d pay respectful homage to my old friend. That’s what I had come to think of the presence— as my old friend. One memorable summer night, after returning home from a date, I remained outside peering up at the especially bright starry sky. My tree was silhouetted in the night sky, taller than I remembered, reminding me of our steadfast connection. A summer breeze rippled through the air and my graceful willow seemed to bow reverently toward me. I nodded back. It felt like a farewell.
The years sped by. Then I had the opportunity to return to my hometown after having lived in another state for almost twenty years. I had some trepidation about seeing my old house because of warnings that it was vacant and showed signs of deep neglect. Still, I had to see for myself. I slowly drove down my familiar street noting the old neighborhood and the unfamiliar changes. As I approached the red brick house with green shutters, I slowed down to a stop to study the scene. But my attention suddenly went to the field next to my house. There, waving in the wind, was my tree. Oh my, I thought. You’re still there! Loyal. Steadfast and ever present.
And my tree echoed those sentiments swaying “Lo, I am with you always, even into the end of days.”