Love is the Madness of Sycamore Trees

Love is the Madness of Sycamore Trees September 10, 2023

a sycamore tree with green and yellow leaves
image via Pixabay


How many times have I told you that I wish there was someone other than Mary Pezzulo here?

How many times have you rolled your eyes and wished I would stop apologizing and get on with it?

Why are you even still here, listening to me?

I’m glad you are. Thank you to everyone who’s been asking how I am. I hope the answer doesn’t disappoint you.

I’m still badly depressed and anxious. I still can’t sleep at night. I am still in the midst of a spiritual crisis and an agonizing deconstruction. Part of me feels that nothing good will ever happen again.

My father, who I love and miss and wish I could talk to, once told me “you can’t imagine what it’s like to be middle-aged. You realize you have thirty more years to live, and there’s nothing.” I swore to myself I’d never feel that way, but now I do. I’ll be thirty-nine next month. My baby is in middle school and I’ve lost hope for another. I’ve accepted that I’ll never be rescued and start my new life someplace else. The place I learned to love Jesus is nothing but a cult, so everything I learned is suspect. I survive day to day. I have nothing to look forward to. I’m depressed.

I’ve been going to Mass and praying in the back since the middle of the summer, but the last few weeks, I can’t. The Virgin Mary is my worst panic trigger, so trying to walk into church on Assumption Day made me sick for the rest of the week. Then I tried to go to Sunday Mass the next weekend and the priest invited a Franciscan sister up to the pulpit to give an announcement, and there came the rush of terror again. After what they did to us, any Franciscan living in Steubenville should be shunned from every gathering place, but they are still honored as living saints. I fled to the car and shuddered for the next hour. The next week, I found I couldn’t walk into a church again, and here I am.

If there’s no god at all, I won’t waste my time. If the deity, whoever that may be, is a petty tyrant who would damn me for having PTSD, then the deity is a bully and my sin against him is an act of virtue. If there is a god of compassion and justice, they will hate Franciscans as much as I do, and understand why I’m not meeting my Sunday obligation. That’s the wager I choose to make.

Today, instead of going to church, I went for a drive.

I drove in circles up and down LaBelle, trying to find something beautiful to look at. Every time I saw a kitschy front yard statue of the Blessed Virgin or Saint Francis, I would cringe and look away. But I liked the scarecrows and the dying sunflowers.

The sycamores have already turned.

Sycamore trees are the first trees to realize it’s Autumn. In late August, when it’s still boiling hot out, their bark peels especially heavily and their leaves start to dry out and die. It doesn’t look like it’s Autumn; it just looks like the sycamores have some kind of disease and every other tree is healthy. But then it starts to get cool at night, with the heat surging back every morning at sunrise. And then the cold fronts roll in, torturously gradually. Then the drought that starts every year in late July evaporates into September rain. And then the other trees join the sycamores and turn. And then it’s fall. The sycamores are not sick. The sycamores are prophets. They tell us the signs of the times.

Pretty soon, the whole world will be a riot of fiery color, and then the color will fade, and it will be winter. I don’t know if it will be another disappointing drizzle of a winter or a nice sharp cold one, but winter will come.

The end of September is the best time to see the color down in southern West Virginia, where my family used to meet for reunions every year. We always met at a state park and stayed in the cabins there in early August, so I know the woods in late summer very well. I have never seen them in early spring during wildflower season, or late spring when the rhododendrons are in bloom, or in the most feverish riot of Autumn color, or in dead winter when they’re buried in drifts. I would like to see all of that with my own eyes.

If I had to describe the virtue of faith, I would say that it’s is believing in colors you can’t see.

And if I had to describe the virtue of hope, I would say that it’s planning the trip you might take even though it’s impossible to take it. As for charity, caritas, love, the greatest of virtues, that’s something else entirely. Love is that which makes the color come and love is the color itself. Love is the seasons that dictate the change. Love is the forest itself. Love is the madness of a sycamore and the more respectable trees that change afterward. Love is everything.

There are bits of yellow and orange peeking through the green of the trees all around Steubenville, right now, following the sycamores. It reminds me of the fire licking around the edges of a bit of newspaper stuck in a pile of dry logs. And again, thinking of that, I was back in Pocahontas County, watching my father light a fire in the fireplace of one of those cabins.

If I win the lottery or inherit a million dollars this week, I’ll reserve that cabin and go on a pilgrimage to Pocahontas County on the last day of September, to see the fall color myself. If I don’t, I’ll go on living from week to week where I am, and still take solace in the thought that it’s happening for others to see.

I guess I still have the virtues of faith and hope, in a way. Love is different. It’s not something that you have. It’s something that exists.

That’s where I happen to be, just now.

I am in Steubenville, in Autumn, depressed, but I still have faith.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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