Updated: Sep 2, 2021
After a slow morning on Monday, I needed to get out of my head- so many thoughts swirling about Dad, our family, the togetherness and tension that go along with big life events. Dad's funeral on Sunday was certainly a huge life event for us. I needed to get out of my heart- the hurt of Dad's death, struggle between siblings, the pain of his absence, knowing that his presence with us would stop our fussing over details. What better way to locate myself than to do some yard work, get down and dirty on the ground? I know that the ground, the soil, the flowers and plants God gives us to tend and enjoy, can heal. There's this Japanese Maple, the dome-like graceful wonder which has grown across the sidewalk heading to the front door. Acer palmatum is the Latin name given to the plant by Swedish doctor-botanist Carl Peter Thunberg. Thunberg chose the name palmatum because the leaves of the tree look like a palm of the hand and palmatum is similar to the centuries-old Japanese names kaede and momiji, references to the 'hands' of frogs and hands of babies. My Dad's hands were like his mother's, our Granny Alvord. I googled Japanese Maple and made sure it was ok to trim in August. There was no advice against it. Not that google is the most reliable about everything, but we do live in the age of immediate encyclopedia look-up. It is a world different from the set of maroon, gold, black and beige Funk & Wagnalls housed in a small bookcase in A-B-C order that my Dad actually bought from a traveling encyclopedia salesman! With google-approval, I donned my spiffy green garden gloves, grabbed the loppers and set to work. It began to sprinkle. However, with each cut of the branches, the chance to let in the light to the undergrowth of the tree pushed me forward. Ornamental - I believe this variety is called the Crimson Queen...she is a beaut! Her thick canopy kept the rain at bay for a while. Under the tree, I felt climbing memories. When a girl, I loved to climb far and high in mango trees, imagining disappearing for just a little bit, ascending into upper heights of glory, quiet. My secret place. When I found a place to rest on a branch and lean back against the trunk, I thought I could feel the tree breathe.
I breathed more deeply. The stillness and solidity of a tree calms. The bark breathes stability.
I love to find a good climbing tree even to this day- Ivan and Olivia don't like that. Evidently, it's somewhat embarrassing to see your Mother climbing a tree in public places. Who knew? The "Trees" poem I memorized in fourth grade came back, the hiking trip with friends to celebrate college graduation in Joyce Kilmer National Forest in Slick Rock Wilderness near Robbinsville, NC reappeared. The forest is a remnant of our nation's old growth forests with trees as old as 400 years, 20 feet in circumference and over 100 feet tall. The 3800 acre forest was named as a memorial to Kilmer, author of the "Trees" poem. He died in France in WWI. Interestingly enough, from 1909 to 1912, Joyce Kilmer was employed by Funk and Wagnalls, which was preparing an edition of The Standard Dictionary that would be published in 1912. Kilmer's job "was to define ordinary words assigned to him at five cents for each word defined. This was a job at which one would ordinarily earn ten to twelve dollars a week, but Kilmer attacked the task with such vigor and speed that it was soon thought wisest to put him on a regular salary." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyce_Kilmer) It was such a surprise when I learned that Joyce was a man, not a woman! As the hours moved forward, the rain got harder-- I kept trimming until nightfall, soaked to the bone and so muddy my shorts are stained forever. Abide in me as I abide in you. Abide with me, fast falls the eventide, the darkness deepens, Lord, with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee. Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Change and decay in all around I see, O Thou who changest not, abide with me Those who abide in me bear much fruit, because, apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-10) I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless, ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness. Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if Thou abide with me. In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me. I call you Friend. Mixed arrangements of these words from scripture and the hymn "Abide With Me" trading places, I even began to sing-say some of them out loud. Weird, I know...grief does weird things to a person. Perhaps, we'd just experienced a kind of trimming, a pruning of sorts, in Dad's death. The dying and dead are trimmed with the gold gilt of Heaven, no longer veiled in human skin.
The dead are fully known
and get to see God face-to-face.
1 Corinthians 13:12-13
The dying make way for the living to thrive. Perhaps, in his death, we've been grounded again in the choosing. That Jesus chose my Dad and servants like him and Jesus continues to choose us, of all people. "I don't call you servants any longer, I call you friends...You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last...I'm giving you these commands so that you may love one another." (John 15:14-17)
Trees I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree. A tree whose hungry mouth is prest Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast; A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray; A tree that may in Summer wear A nest of robins in her hair; Upon whose bosom snow has lain; Who intimately lives with rain. Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.
- Joyce Kilmer
Grace and Peace,