I needed to sit and watch it moving, to allow its gentle current to move me back into the larger stream of life, a place more hopeful and healing than the dark corner I’d backed myself into. So I headed to a park a few miles out of town, a small strip of land bordering a creek that boasts a walking trail with heavy, old picnic tables dotting the water’s edge.
It took me awhile to settle in, I paced talking and texting on my phone, moving from table to table to avoid the noise and dust of an industrial sized mower that seemed intent on following me. I fidgeted and fussed, like a bird looking for the perfect place to land.
Settling at last at a picnic table in the shade near the water’s edge, I watched the water and the insect world at my feet; the ants that ran in a fury and a caterpillar making its deliberate way across the ground. As I watched, I felt myself being slowed to the pace of the world’s breathing.
I suppose the tree was watching the entire time. Observing the texting, the talking, the hopping from table to table and then finally, the slowing, sinking into time and space. She watched waiting, reading me and holding her silence, like the wisest among us often do, until the moment was right.
She spoke while I was praying, in a voice that sounded, at first, like a cry.
I turned at the sound and there she stood, just a few feet behind me, a statuesque sycamore. Her trunk was bent, jutting out like a woman’s hip does when carrying a young child. Her arms and shoulders lifted at an angle as though she had thrown her hands up in the air at some point long ago. She wore the beauty of her leaves like a giant head-dress that fell around her neck in a waterfall of shaking, shimmering green light.
I wondered how long she’d stood there watching the slow movement of the murky water, the endless turning of the world and how much she knew of the fallen branches and logs, the trees now dead on the opposite bank, bleached white like bones in the sun.
Despite her cry, she looked happy to me, standing with her splotchy bark peeled white in some places, her branches humming with the singing vibration of cicadas.
I noticed she was smiling and as I sat, listening, she spoke again as if answering my unspoken question.
“I have deep roots,” she said. “Besides, who do you think gave me this voice? And who gave you yours?”
Her face softened then with compassion, “Don’t be afraid to use it, to lift your voice and your arms and cry out like so many before you, ‘Lord, don’t you care?!’”
She paused, as if to let this sink in.
Then she said, “Watch the water and grow deep roots. The deeper your roots, the louder your cry and the further your arms will reach until they’re knocking on the very doors of heaven. Then you’ll know that this is what you were made for; to stand here, with your gnarled roots pressing down into the cool darkness, your weathered arms raised and shaking in the wind, crying out, until you are reached and known by the One who gave you this voice.”
I wrote quickly, listening to the voice that came from without and within, all around, until she grew silent again and still.
Looking back I can see how that tree, so at home in her body and being, rooted deep by the water’s edge, was calling me home. Speaking to my heart, she bypassed my fear and anxiety, my questions and calculations, reiterating the truth that this, indeed, is what I was made for.
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