The Cherry Tree on Willett Street

The Cherry Tree on Willett Street December 18, 2012

Read Mark’s weekly reflections on The Huffington Post.

Life can be harsh and beautiful by turns. Often, it seems unfair. Why can’t the beautiful openings last longer? I learned one spring that this movement from fullness to bareness is the inhalation and exhalation of the Universe. The rhythm is what keeps us alive. It keeps us growing. My teacher that spring was a cherry tree.


The Cherry Tree on Willett Street

For three glorious years, I lived on Willett Street in Albany, New York, in an old brownstone on the edge of a beautiful park, which I could see year-round from my bay window.  Across the street was a very old cherry tree whose surprising blossoms burst for only a few days in early May.

The first year I called my dear friend Robert and my wife Susan, and we stood arm in arm beneath the tree, staring up into a swaying thicket of pink. Since it bloomed before everything else, the miracle of flowers sprouting from wood was shouting quietly. From that day, I watched the cherry tree intensely, in awe how quickly and easily it would let go of all its apparent beauty, as quickly gone as it had come.

There were times in late fall or winter when I felt as sudden in possibility, and as quickly bereft. I would go out in the rain or snow and place my hands against the trunk, as if asking for its counsel. And it always seemed to say in silence—neither the fullness nor the bareness lasts, but we return.

By the second spring, we anticipated the days of blossom. At first sign, we gathered and read poems to the tree and to each other. After the second blossoming, I saw the tree’s bareness as a remarkable, enduring strength. Knowing this softness would return, and sprout from its woodiness, became a guide.

Susan and I now live in Michigan, but each spring Robert goes in silence to stand beneath the thicket of pink. And we call to hear how the tree has burst again in its fullness. We close our eyes as he tells us the story we want to hear, and we feel possible all over.

—excerpt from Seven Thousand Ways to Listen


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