My early childhood involved countless hours of laughter and frolicking in our spacious, secluded back yard in small town Michigan. The best part of the yard by far was this glorious and massive maple tree that was nearly as old as the hundred-year-old house where we resided. It was as tall as the sky, with its giant roots sprawling throughout the lot. The tree provided delightful shade in the heat of summer as my brothers and I darted around, splashing in the sprinkler or spraying each other with water guns, allowing the glistening water to caress our skin and cool our bodies.
In the fall, we’d eagerly rake the mounds of leaves that fell from the sky into piles so colossal that we’d quickly become lost as our father playfully tossed us into the crunchy mounds of red, orange, and yellow. I’d use the trunk to (unsuccessfully) avoid the fury of cold, white snowballs being hurled my way each winter, or look up into its endless branches while I ran my limbs through the fluff to create magnificent snow angels.
What I never thought about as a child, though, is all that trees endure in their lengthy lifetime.
They stand strong and tall in the strongest of storms, hoping their roots can stay planted as the wind beacons them to blow away and the lightning strikes all around. The scorching sun doesn’t wilt them as it beat down relentlessly in those “dog days” of July and August. Cold and icy winters rarely break their spirit as they simply bloom again and fill with leaves when spring cheerfully pops in again.
Sure, trees sometimes shed branches just as we strip off our clothes after a hard day at work. They tolerate all the tiny creatures who call trees home, allowing them to scamper, burrow, and build nests to shelter themselves. Trees show signs of aging wear within the bark of their trunks, and even suffer at the hand of man. Yet, somehow, through it all, that beautiful Maple of my days of innocence survived it all and remained strong enough to withstand nearly a decade of my antics in the yard. In fact, it thrived, living out countless years of glory there in the backyard of 507 Grainger Street. Last time I checked, it’s still standing.
It’s hard to believe, but this month will mark my 31st year around the sun within the complex purgatory of our desolate planet. The plan this time one year ago was to not even be here, to never see the digits in my age flip from 29 to 30.
Yet, here I am, heart still beating, feet still firmly planted on the ground.
I realized something recently as I gingerly traced the scars on my arm and reflected on the time that has passed in my seemingly lengthy life. In so many ways, the human existence is oh so similar to that of a tree, much like the beloved maple of my childhood. We are created, just a tiny seed, planted into a warm and fertile space (like soil), and born into a world which constantly pushes against us. We grow in body, mind, and soul, despite the forces of nature that we endure. There are countless storms, trials and tribulations that try to break us, sometimes causing parts of ourselves to split or fade away. We fry in the summer sun, and freeze in the cold of winter. Our skin shows all our scars and growing pains, just like tree bark tells its tale.
What defines us is not the storms that break our branches or the marks carved in our bark, though. Our purpose and our memories are built on the beautiful: the protective shade we provide to those we love, the laughter born in our presence, the moments that are built as we grow and thrive in our natural habitat surrounded by the flora and fauna, the people we encounter while our feet are planted firmly on the ground.
It’s been a rocky year at best, but like my favorite maple tree, here I am, still standing.
Allow yourself to continue standing, too, with your feet planted firmly on the ground. Feel the breeze as it flows through your hair and caresses your skin. Enjoy the rays of sunshine as they gently kiss your face. Or, maybe, find your own favorite tree and either sit under it with a good book or place yourself flat on the ground, looking up at the endless branches that reach into the sky. We are all like simply like a tree: constantly growing in mind, body, and soul.