We live, I live on the second floor of a condominium building. We are just above a semi-busy street. Directly in front of our patio is a large Maple tree. She is flanked by a variety of pine and some bushes beneath her.
Across the street however is a small forest, perhaps four or five trees deep. They block the view of the Shop Rite most of the year. They are Oak and Maple, Pine and Cypress.
Pete mentioned the trees often. In particular, he would tell me about the motion of the trees as they waved in the breeze during the day. Until that afternoon sitting on the patio, I would have said his primary view of the world was his online life and the audio books he was devouring. But I would have been wrong.
You see, about two weeks after Pete’s death, I was suddenly aware of the surrounding trees. It felt as if they were watching me, listening to me thinking. I had never experienced creation as participating in life with me before. But that afternoon, I saw the Maple and the chorus behind her and I realized that they had watched Pete too.
fact, they knew him. They knew all that had happened. They saw his mobility being taken from him. And it occurred to me that they probably saw him cry more than I did.
These trees were Pete’s witnesses.
I broke down in tears, whispering words of thanks to these strong witnesses. “Thank you for being here for him. For watching and listening and witnessing to his life and his hurt and his worry and his doubt and his love,” I said.
A few days went by. My heart felt like it someone had taken a fillet knife and shaved off the front of it. I looked to the trees and asked them, “how will a wound this ugly ever heal?”
I turned to my right and tried to imagine Pete sitting beside me. I tried to tell him how I was feeling – the pain in my heart, the crying that turned to moaning (that I saved for when I was alone – or with the trees.) I told Pete, “I’m at a loss for how any of this will heal. My heart is so torn apart. Anytime I think about what I can do to heal it, I just think how ugly the scar will be.”
And after a moment of silence, I added, “I love you Pete.”
And I’m not kidding – the trees spoke to me. Not audibly. But they communicated clearly, “Don’t stop doing that. Don’t stop loving him.”
I blinked with uncertainty; I looked up at the chorus of my green friends and said, “What? Do you mean I don’t have to let him go? I can keep loving him?”
I looked over to where I had imagined Pete sitting beside me and I said, “Oh my God, Pete, that’s how my heart is going to heal!”
And the trees sighed a solid, “Yes.”
Tears streaming down my face, lump in my throat, I caught my breath and said, “I know how to love him. I can do that. I can.”
Continue to love. Love will heal my heart. Love heals.
The Christian scriptures say that God is love. It’s not an adjective in that sentence. It does not say that God is loving or God is lovely. It says God is Love. When we love, we know God.
The trees set me straight that day. This was not a time to let go, move on, set aside, bury the dead. This was a time to continue to love. This season of love will look very different than the last season of love. And the the season before that was different as well. The trees knew that; they had witnessed it.
We humans often fall short of the kind of love we wish to give and to receive. But the trees, they stand with generations of love embedded in their trunks. Their branches creep outward fueled by love. And with their leaves they wave love to us as they witness to our lives.