I’m losing the trees slowly from my back yard. Last winter I lost the birches that filled the view from my window, felled in a storm. Today men with a huge truck and massive saws are decimating an old 4-story maple, tearing away half of it because a windstorm has sheared a large gap through a main branch (thick as a trunk), and it was threatening my neighbor’s property. There remain six evergreens marching across the very back of the property, but I still feel the losses.
I know that life is change and that new growth and decay follow on each other, one after another. Accidents and storms happen. Destroying fires happen. But I still grieve the loss of that which I’d come to value.
Now I’m remembering how, many years ago, before I realized the good that often lies on the other side of loss, I was shocked and distressed when I saw that a fire had destroyed the wooded area beside a lake that I frequently visited. I was living in Kansas. The lake was a manmade jewel in the midst of the flat prairie, and the ground all around it obviously had been planted. When I lived there it had grown up into a beautiful, peaceful place where I went to pray. It was habitat to many small animals and birds and a haven for people who were hungry for what the prairie couldn’t give. When I drove in from the long flat fields to that singular oasis of water and trees, bushes and short grass, rabbits and fish and shining blue water, I would feel peace come over me, a sense of being refreshed. The prairie is beautiful in its own way, but woods and lakes are home to me.
On that day, as my car rattled over the long dirt road from the highway, my breath caught when I saw that all around the lake there was nothing left but charred stubble blackening the earth. The lake looked orphaned in the wasteland the fire had left. The smell of fire lingered in the air. I nearly cried. When I learned later that the fire had been deliberately set as a tool of land management, I felt angry. The destruction made sense to someone, but not to me. I thought of the animals made homeless by the fire, running terrified from it. I couldn’t understand how people could do that, and I was inconsolable (though I kept my grief to myself).
Then one day the following spring I drove out to the lake again, not expecting to see much, just needing to get away from the little town I was in and the pressures of ministry, and I was shocked once more, this time to see the new growth that was springing up all around the still-beautiful lake. It astonished me, the land was so green and fresh! Somehow some small animals had survived and new ones had been born, and though it wasn’t the same place it had been before the fire, it was clear to me that it was coming alive again. It felt like resurrection, an Easter gift of a new beginning that I was grateful to have.
I hate and grieve each death, large or small. But I am also willing to forgive the dying of things I’ve loved and to look for the new things that will be born from those losses. It seems hard for many of us to do, doesn’t it: to forgive God for the way things are, and to trust God for the relentless renewal and new-gifting that is so much part of this life? But peace comes when we are able to accept that we cannot see or understand it all, and to trust…. just to trust.
As I wrote this the men outside finished their work. Now they’re gone and the yard is quiet again. The old maple still stands, half of its former self but still reaching four stories high, still sighing in the wind, still giving shade. That will have to do for now, at least until I plant another tree this Fall. I want to replace the fallen birches and offer the promise of new nests for the squirrels and the birds in the years to come.
Blessing to you. May you be at peace with whatever the day holds for you, and may you be able to rejoice in the gift of new life in whatever form it comes to you.