When we moved back from Morocco, I noticed a lot of dead trees – many more than what I remembered from before our move. I kept mentioning this to others and they’d say they hadn’t noticed and then they’d look at me quizzically, as if their worst fears were realized: Yep. She was brainwashed by some crazy Islamist over there and now, not only does she love Muslims, she’s lost her grip on reality, too.
But I am convinced trees are dying at a more rapid rate than they used to. Kinda like people right now.
All this virus stuff propagating thoughts on death and disease has made me consider these dead trees. And I’ve observed a few things: The biggest and oldest trees grow taller every year and push farther heavenward as they seek the sun. They are like wise, old patriarchs who are masters at protecting, nurturing, sheltering and beautifying. Their tall, sturdy trunks reveal years and years of battle scars: they have fought valiantly in many a storm. Their inside rings secretly reveal their age and their bark tells the stories eternally etched as lover’s initials or all those who “were here.” Further inspection discloses nooks and crevices that served as safe havens to multiple needy forest creatures over the years. Even into old age, their role for the world so evident: Their roots go so deep, they are unshakeable.
These trees have done their good work for decades, maybe even centuries. But eventually, they will tire and fade and die because nothing lasts forever. And they will most certainly be missed by anyone who notices the trees. Something vital and essential to our landscape will be gone! However, GOOD NEWS! The old trees have left behind numerous smaller trees in their perimeter and they have now grown to the point where they are ready to mature independently. Why are these young trees so ready and able? Because they have been nurtured, protected, and sheltered by the taller, bigger, and older trees! And you know what happens when the old trees finally die? The little ones below suddenly receive more sunlight! They are able to push heavenward a little easier without the heavy shade of the older trees!
This is what I’ve noticed in best communities: they revere the old trees. They surround them with beauty like flowers or hostas and a bench. Often, the bench has a gold commemorative plaque honoring someone who did some good thing. Passersby will stop and read the plaque, sit on the bench and admire the tree that shades it. They’ll run their hands over the bark and try to figure out how old the tree is and who the people are behind all the carved initials.
No one digs up old trees and places them all in one location so they can die huddled together, spreading diseases faster than a forest fire. No, the tall, old trees are out in the public square, in the parks and in our yards. We revere those trees because we know they’ve EARNED their spot and their recognition. We sit beneath them and thank them for their years.
Why can’t the same be true for elderly people?
What if we sat at the feet of elderly people and revered them and appreciated their experiences and wisdom? What if we asked them if we could feel their skin and wrinkles? What if we asked Grandma how she met Grandpa? What if we asked them how they chose their professions? What if we asked what it was like to live during World War II? What if we asked them if they had old journals or diaries and if we could read them together? What if we asked them what kind of music they listened to growing up and then listened to it together? What if we made plaques commemorating what astounding individuals they are and put them on their doorposts so everybody could see? What if we respected the elderly as much as we respected old trees?
A PRAYER FOR THE TREES
I asked my mom about the tree comparison recently. At 79 years old, she says she is ready to “bow out” of the woods and let the younger trees rise up and take her place. She told me all her (older) friends feel the same way. She said it’s okay if a crazy virus takes her life. “God knows the number of my days. It’s the classic circle of life. I’m okay to make way for you younger trees to rise up and have your time in the sun.”
My prayer for you and for me, is that as we age, we can be like the trees.
May we all, at the end of our days, be able to say our roots go down deep, that we provided shelter and food and a home for those in our vicinity with need. May our exterior not be perfect, but showing clear signs of wear and tear that signify we have lived fully – engaged in the difficult but necessary work of life. May we say that although our presence in the “forest” around us ended, we did, indeed, encourage growth to our surroundings and may we look about us and recognize a whole forest of younger people ready to take over our many roles of service. And may those young people look up to us patriarch trees and say, “It has been nice having you in my forest. I’d never be who I am today without you in my life.”