The House or The Tree?

“But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease.”

                                                                                                                John Muir

On Sunday evening, I left my apartment to take a walk, and stopped at my mailbox on the way out. I’ve developed the bad habit of only checking my mail sporadically – often enough that bills don’t languish past their due dates (admittedly sometimes by a razor-thin margin). To my surprise, the mailbox yielded a wonderful, newsy, handwritten letter from a distant friend!

It was a cool early summer evening, a fresh breeze ruffling the profusion of new summer growth everywhere. I savored the letter as I walked, enjoying my friend’s stories of her life. Most especially, I appreciated her self-reflection as she, like me, struggles to find her way in midlife.

One thread in the letter concerned her ongoing struggle to navigate personal relationships – a theme most of us can relate to. My friend wrote that she has spent a lot of her life thinking that she is deficient in some way, that when her relationships were troubled or refused to thrive, it was because of some lack in her, some sabotaging flaw. She went on to say that, lately, she’s been trying on a new perspective: perhaps, she wrote, these other people in her life had been/are assholes (users, takers, completely self-focused). The kind of people who keep shifting the bar intentionally so that she would work harder, do more, within the relationship to keep their attention, their love. Maybe, she wrote, she’s not the problem, after all.

At this point in the letter, and in my walk, I felt the need for a pause. I sat on a short cement wall, one hand on the sun-warmed cement, the other, holding the letter, resting in my lap. I looked across the street, seeing an abandoned house with a tree in front of it (pictured above). As I gazed at this scene I thought:

How easy it is for us to see ourselves as this house: broken, abandoned, lonely, spoiled, past our prime. Unloved.

How easy it is to see everyone else as that tree: strong, beautiful, inviting (it has lilies dancing all around it’s trunk!), sheltering. Wanted.

We think we are so lucky that the tree has chosen to be near us.

What would happen if we shifted our perception, adjusted our vision, and thought of ourselves as the tree?

And what if we think of some of the people who come into our lives as the lilies, and the birds, and the many tiny creatures who are at home with us? They enhance our lives and we enliven theirs; we mutually benefit.

Now and then, one of these houses appears. We generously offer it shade, and companionship. But we don’t allow it to alter our basic tree-ness: we stay whole and beautiful. We are ourselves, and we know that the house is itself, too. It is not our task to make the house feel whole and new again.

What if, instead of thinking we are lucky to be chosen, we thought, “We are all so lucky to be together.”

At this point, I got up and resumed by letter-reading and walking. When I got home, I felt relaxed and content, so although I’d intended to sit right down and write a return letter to my friend, I went to sleep instead.

When I got up the next morning, the week’s needs and events overtook me almost immediately. But at least once each day, in the midst of the busyness and overwhelm of the work week, a little whisper has come into my mind. “What if you are the tree?” it asks. Gradually, I have begun to see how that would change everything.


4 thoughts on “The House or The Tree?

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