Wednesday, 29 July 2009

empathy for a tree: a pastoral parable

wounded tree dying from within at derwentwater

damaged tree with decay and woodworm close up

Sitting having lunch out of the rain in the shelter of a large tree I could not help but notice the smaller damaged tree in front of us. At some stage in the past a catastrophic event had mutilated it, stunting it forever.

As you can see the damage was extensive. Although the wound in the bark appeared to be old and to have healed around the edges, much of the heartwood looked to be riddled with woodworm holes and signs of deeper decay. And all of this was exposed to the elements in Borrowdale, the wettest valley in England.

Yet here it was, still alive with its remaining branches in full leaf. Clearly sap still flowed inside the trunk and the tree displayed a noteworthy resilience to what might otherwise have been a rapid terminal decline.

Many lives are lived like this. Sometimes the wounds and brokenness are clearly visible to an observant onlooker, but oftentimes less so. Much remains hidden and too many people decay slowly from the inside, bearing damage from their past which never heals.

Like woodworm and fungus, life-events have a way of not only making the damage worse but also of jeopardising longer-term wellbeing and quality of life.

All the more remarkable then are the times of luxuriant foliage in their lives and the shelter and delight which they give to others. The wound is not their only truth nor does it define them.

The beauty here is that of the whole tree being a tree, being alive and turning sunlight into sustenance, deep-rooted into the soil of its existence, just doing the best it can.

Each and all of us can empathise with this tree. We recognise ourselves in it. And like the tree our past wounds are not our whole truth nor do they define us. Rooted in the soil of love and bathed in the sunlight of acceptance the sap of dignity and hope rises still.

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