I grew up surrounded by trees, and I loved them, and I miss them now that I live somewhere different.
But I’ve discovered that focusing on what we’ve lost sometimes blinds us to the flipside… the good thing that might follow in the wake of the loss.
My childhood neighbourhood was full of trees. Rainforest trees with seeds the size and weight of cricket balls that would suddenly drop from a lofty height with life-threatening potential. Mighty pines that released clouds of yellow pollen, and shed pine cones that I dressed in hats and clothes and stuck paper eyes on during my Handicraft Period (similar to Picasso’s Blue Period but requiring more glue). The blessed relief of dense mango tree shade on a steamy summer-sauna day.
Other trees with edible fruit… exotic pecans (don’t break the nut open with your teeth if it’s got ants in it!) and native macadamias with their spiky dark leaves pricking our skin. Mulberries that stained our hands and faces and yielded leaves for our silkworm projects. Even one neighbour with a custard apple, sweet and gritty and delicious once you pulled out the little grubs that congregated near the stem.
And towering above them all, native gums keeping a serene eye on all this lushness, like a benign prefect at tree school.
The big trees were full of birdlife, starting with the sarcastic dawn chorus of the kookaburras (yes! you do have to get up! ha ha ha), blending into the warbling of magpies, the throat-clearing of currawongs, the mournful hooooo of the storm bird, and the screeching of delinquent sulphur-crested cockatoos, drunk on fermented umbrella tree fruit yet again and swinging upside down in rowdy gangs.
At dusk, the birds went to bed and the night-shift came on. Flying foxes shrieking and squabbling, possums stuttering, koalas grunting and growling. (Anyone who thinks the Australian bush is silent has never been there.)
There’s just something about trees, especially big trees, that speaks to my spirit. When I’m surrounded by something so much bigger than myself, it’s like a visual aid putting my problems into perspective, and making me think of God. My heart lifts a little, my worries are quietened, just a little.
When I bought my own place, I couldn’t afford a big yard. In fact, I ended up with a pragmatic choice, a little townhouse among others just the same, with the redeeming feature of a big open river plain over my back fence. I do like my little house, but I’m sad that the tree police won’t let anything grow taller than themselves. Heaven forbid we should get leaves in our gutters, or, horror of horrors, have to rake them up from the lawn in autumn!
I’ve consoled myself by growing an improbable collection of trees in my little courtyard — which have finally started to bring a few birds other than crows — and visiting other people’s trees when I can. And of course, I’ve grumped about having no trees. 😉
But do you know what I’ve finally realised I get at this house, that I never had much of growing up?
When the trees are all gathering around and overhead, you get only glimpses of sky. And now that I’ve seen it repeatedly, I am able to report that sky is actually quite a beautiful thing too.
Our summer storms come roaring in from the Darling Downs to the south west, or the really vicious ones from the north west. At my childhood home, they would sneak up on us, and we’d be scrambling to get the washing off the line just as a thunderclap released the deluge.
Now I can watch the huge thunderheads approaching for hours, with fascination and sometimes fear.
And the sunsets are simply extraordinary. The evening art display is always beautiful and often exquisite, whether the soft gradations of blue and pink and silver of a clear winter sky, or the infinite combinations of cloud — from delicate swirls and wisps of gold and silver, to bruised purple and lurid orange and sulky charcoal.
And I take the time to look at it, because I’m that sort of person, a dreamer and gazer who probably should be taking the garbage out to the bin but is looking up instead. It thrills me, refreshes me, inspires me.
I have a special memory of driving down my road through one glorious sunset and saying aloud, “Well, God, you’ve excelled yourself today,” and receiving an unmistakeable answering thrill through my spirit. Far out brussel sprout, he heard me! So often I forget to remember that he likes beauty too — he made it, after all!
I have other special memories from the time when my teenage niece was living with me, another dreamy soul who likes to gaze at things. We would often sprawl on the ground in front of my house and watch the changing sky show until the light had all seeped away.
Of course, I continued to whinge and moan about the absence of big trees at my house. And then it suddenly dawned on me one day: the reason I had so much glorious sky to look at was…. (drumroll) the absence of trees. My loss was also my gain.
I’ve seen that happen in other parts of my life too. When I used to spend three hours every day commuting to work, I resented every minute… but now I realise I got much more reading done then than I ever have time for now!
Trees and trains are small potatoes compared to some losses, but can the principle still apply?
I met a woman with terminal cancer. She spoke frankly about her fears, but also saw positives in her situation. “Any of us can die without warning,” she said, “but because I know my time is short, I’m able to make the most of the months I have left.” I was awestruck by her ability to find a silver lining in such a dark cloud. She spent her time talking openly to people about her hopes for eternity, and saying everything that she needed to say to the people she loved.
When my own beloved father died very suddenly, it was a brutal shock. But later I was able to see God’s mercies in the situation.
There was the obvious one, that it was better for my Dad that he slipped away quickly instead of lingering in pain and confusion for days, weeks or months.
But there was a more subtle benefit too. Because we hadn’t been drained by an Intensive Care marathon, we had more health and strength ourselves to grieve and heal and try to get back into life. I’ve done the ICU endurance feat before, and it sucks the life out of you. My grief would have been so much harder to bear, with that level of exhaustion.
I’m trying to learn to be more thankful, every day, even though I often slip back into belly-aching about whatever has gone wrong again! 😉 I’m a praying person, and I’ve begun deliberately slowing down and — before I start asking for things — saying thank you for every good thing that comes to mind that has happened that day, and also looking for a flipside to the less-than-good things, that I could perhaps be thankful for too. It’s a small thing, but it’s a start, and it does seem to be helping change the direction of my mind.
How good are you at seeing the flipside of the things you don’t want? I’m trying to get better at it, but it’s a lifelong process. I’d love to hear about your experiences.