Yesterday my husband and I planted a tree. It seemed like a hopeful thing to do in these uncertain and disheartening times.
I felt all spiritual about it, I won’t lie. I am a person who hugs trees. I’ve hugged them on hiking trails and in my own backyard. As a human, there’s little else I can do to express my fondness for them. But I also hug them for my own sake. There’s something reassuring about pressing your soft body against a tree’s rough, unyielding trunk. You can feel the life simmering beneath its bark. You can feel the life of all the insects and birds and mammals that call a tree their home. A tree is a kind of world.
People are worlds, too. In a way, the inner life of another man or woman — even your own spouse — is just as difficult to comprehend as the life of a tree. What can they be thinking? And how? Marriage is hard; it’s much harder than I suspected it would be when I was wearing that white dress and clutching those roses, and I know my husband feels the same way. It’s hard for the same reasons that being an American is currently difficult: Sometimes other people’s choices and behaviors seem so contrary to reason, so obviously destructive, so beyond our ability to fathom, that we think we can’t love them.
And sometimes it’s true; sometimes we can’t.
We are frantic, hot-blooded creatures, after all. We are scurriers to and fro. We plot and scheme and take offense.
Tomorrow is Election Day and I don’t feel hopeful; regardless of which candidate claims victory, a terrible divide has been exposed. It will be hard to forget what we’ve heard and what we’ve seen—and what we’ve seen tolerated by people we know and love and otherwise respect. By members of our own families, even.
It will be hard to forgive.
This is why, in many ways, trees seem like more advanced life forms. They seem like good examples. Trees do not scream at one another. They don’t lie or call names. Neither do they leave, or threaten to leave, because for a tree, leaving equals death.
There is a kind of intelligence in a tree, a sense of forbearance. Overhead, the sky is a shifting kaleidoscope of day and night. Trees’ leaves reflect sunsets, lightning, rainbows. They drink in the rain and endure the droughts. While they occasionally crowd one another, they nevertheless share resources. They tolerate. They reach toward one another and create aerial pathways for squirrels or monkeys or whatever happens to be living in them. Each year they shed their leaves, releasing their autumn color into the soil, and in the spring they press new foliage from the tips of their branches, both unchanged and altogether new. They are singularly devoted to growth.
If you can go outside today, do it. Find a tree and consider what it has witnessed. Consider the storms that have thrashed its branches and sprayed its leaves across the sky.
Take heart. And take a deep breath.