I Shall Be a Tree

J. Sheffield, 6/29/2005

Before Tu BShvat in 2005, The Shalom Center and The Morris Arboretum invited students in Philadelphia to submit brief essays on their experience of trees. We found this the most interesting.

There was a time fire word "pagan" was not considered irreverent. It signified a deep respect for the earth. A close friend describes her Lithuanian heritage. She remembers her grandmother speaking of a time when trees were sacred. Her ancestors believed when you die. you have a choice. You can move on to the other side, into the unknown. Or, you can stay. If the latter is your choice, then your spirit is given safe haven in the womb of a tree. There you may dwell with other spirits who have made the same choice as you-Together or alone you infuse the physical trunk and branches with unseen life. Not only do they filter the air we breathe, but they feed our souls. Where else could birds perch to sing us their songs? Who else could protect us from a sweltering sun or a harsh rain? Who else couid delight our eyes in the spring with the excitement of new life or the rainbow of colors in the fall?

I gaze at the familiar trees which surround me. I call them "mine," but they will continue swaying in the breeze long after I am forgotten. I fool myself into believing I am more important than they. But what do I offer the Earth in comparison? Very little. I take far more than I return, unlike the trees who give so much.

If what the Lithuanians believe is true, then my mother dwells somewhere here nearby. I wonder if she chose the old sugar maple in front of the house where she struggled up the brick walk during her iast year? Or did she choose the dogwood because her great grandchildren delighted in climbing it? As an artist she might have chosen the purple plum. I hope not, for it died and only a stump remains. Maybe she has moved on to the small Japanese maple I planted to replace it It doesn't matter as I feel her presence.

When my time comes, I shall choose to inhabit a tree. Somewhere near my daughters When I imagine myself a tree, I stand tall and I throw out my arms. But my feet are locked in place. I cannot move. I fear l am too much in love wlth motion- l have lost my talent for simply being. Not running. Not scattering my wishes on unlevel ground. I shall have to learn to be still. To breathe. I will find teachers among the trees. They can teach me how to be open to whatever befalls me. They can help me to let life come to me in the form of birds who travel great distances yet return to rest in my arms, I will leam to be patient and humble and trusting, for I am confident they can teach me.

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