Wounded, Split in Two, Still Flourishing

Margaret Rose Realy is a master-gardener, and I like to read her stuff, because it seems to me she’s managed to glean some gentle wisdom while out there among the seedlings, weeds and flowers. Today, she writes of a tree she encountered along a lonely road:

As I neared I saw the tree had been broken in two. The sight of a tree split in half is not uncommon, but to see one split like this and flowering profusely was a reason to stop.
The shattered tree was not fully matured, but still a good size. The trunk was split right down the center and half of the tree rested on the ground. What catastrophic event had assaulted it? What had broken it to its core, leaving it forever contorted? I parked the car. I wanted to touch this tree.
I walked into the ditch and looked up the incline. I had a clear view of the tree’s trunk. The side closest to the road was smooth and had a silvery sheen. The center gash had large slices of exposed wood fanning out connecting the twisted, grounded portion. I tried to determine if it had been snow and ice that caused the break, or maybe lightning or a wind sheer. I decided it didn’t matter what had caused the damage, it was a wonder the tree had lived at all.
The leaves on both halves were shiny and fully developed. I thought that there would be some distortion to their growth, at least on the damaged side. The prolific flowers were fragrant and newly opened. I could hear the buzzing of excited bees as they whirled, dizzily gathering pollen. By the looks of it, the tree would bear fruit and feed the community of birds or any number of wildlife.

You’ll want to read the rest

I’ve written before about a brother of mine who had a massive stroke at a young age, the complications of which you could not imagine because they were so unusual and yes, unimaginable. Like the tree, his own life was split and shattered, and the family in its way was, too. His injuries, for a very long time, were the center of our attention and the point from which much of our lives referenced outward; like the bugs and the bees we moved away from them, to do the necessary work of living, came back to them, hovered and buzzed until what was so freakish to the rest of the world (and so oddly defiant (“Why isn’t he dead? He’d be better off dead!” We heard frequently from “well-meaning” people who were appalled that something so hideous might yet live in their midst) became just another way that life survives despite unimaginable stress.. Life flourishes even when it has been stricken; flourishes even when it seems against all sense; flourishes when there seems to be no “use” for it.

“It’s the life he has,” my sister would say. When the people who thought life meant feeling “fine” and being about business that was not their own would ask if our brother’s situation didn’t incline our thoughts toward “mercy” killing, she would give them a hard stare. “It is the life he has, and he’s entitled to it.”

If many people turned away from our poor brother, because he was less-than-beautiful and made them uncomfortable, others never even noticed him. But he lived for 35 years in a broken, shattered state as engaged as he could be. Those around him understood that he was loving music, laughing at the jokes he got, observing the bees and bugs as they moved around him, setting the world to rights from the locus of his formidable, unsettlingly alive self, just like Margaret’s tree, which is still involved with the stuff of creations daily being and renewal, from the midst of its passive-yet-fruitul laying.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Romulus

    I think often about trees and their wood, types repeatedly proposed to us in the Bible. Following is a meditation on trees and more, sent by me from a devastated and desolate New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina:

    The most recent change is the trees. A parade of heavy trucks had rumbled through the day before, clear-cutting huge limbs. These they allowed to fall helter skelter, crushing my mother’s new cast iron fence. It hurt to look at the once-impressive live oak in front of the house. It’s not much older than I am; when we moved to this house in 1967, it was barely out of adolescence. Over the years it had grown to solid maturity, a rich world in itself with abundant shade from a broad canopy extending over the house itself and across the street. I pondered it last Sunday: not killed by the storm (nor by flood, we hope), but now reduced, stripped and impoverished.

    Fallen, still standing but impoverished, or just vanished, the fate of the bereft city’s trees suggests that of her people.

    We talked of trees the last time I saw you. As I said then, since last Christmas I’ve been thinking about trees and wood as images of the human body, and how that linkage runs through the Bible with mystical significance. Sitting on my parents’ steps, I considered the shorn, humbled trees, considered how some lives here have been pruned, others maimed, and still others (rootless, or else eaten out and empty on the inside) have toppled altogether. We are all trees of one sort or another, and our savior – who made flesh cognate with wood by having his own flesh conformed to and torn by it as he was nailed to it – is a carpenter, whose business it is to impart shape and meaning to wood in a new life that rescues it from fire or decay.

    But in the midst of devastation, the most unlooked-for things can happen. Battered and storm-stripped, the Bradford pears and Chinese magnolias are responding by more than just surviving. Out of season, their nature has revealed itself in prompting them to flower. Out of hardship, from within themselves, they surprise the world with untimely beauty. Who knew?

    I wish you could see them.

    “Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo.”

  • http://www.patheos.com/About-Patheos/Pat-Gohn.html Pat Gohn

    I had the joy of puttering through — and at the risk of sounding like a cliche from the previous post — praying through some of the gardens that Margaret and a team of volunteers maintain at a retreat house. It was gorgeous and pastoral. She has a great book about gardening, but more than that, it is about how you can help make your garden a place of prayer. Click thru this link to see more: http://prayer-gardens.blogspot.com/p/book-products.html


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