We reflect the totality of our experiences, as we choose to interpret them. My college years included multiple independent study courses, all focused on peneology and corrections. An internship as an inmate counselor yielded a similar full-time job, albeit with a fancier title. Years later as a prosecutor spending 9-5 focused on the worst of human behavior, I committed to extracting a price from the source miscreant. But the weariness engendered by memorizing bloody crime scene photos as part of trial prep, combined with the blank stares of victims, culminated in my resignation. I replaced blatant criminality with civil defense litigation.
Witnessing similar egregious behavior in this nation’s corporate boardrooms clarified. One word underscored the essential difference between the stereotypical prison inmate and the thousand-dollar-suit wearing clown masquerading as an outstanding citizen: money.
Reality sealed my perspective, wedding it to the negative. But childhood training left the seed of positivity planted by my twice-widowed mother. As I matured, so too did my interpretation resilience. Although now removed from my airspace, Mom continues to preach and teach. Quoting her street-honed brilliance: “when all else fails, find a tree.”
Tickling clouds with its limbs, a tree simultaneously burrows deep into the earth, finding its innate strength. Storms may bend its core but the tree boomerangs, resuming its proud upright profile. Shedding leaves, a tree litters the ground at Nature’s insistence. Yet given time, leaves—magnificent in their tie-dyed hues—once again blossom from the barren limbs.
Moving to “the Deep South” robbed me of the northeast corridor’s pageantry of color each autumn. In these here parts, one must maneuver to western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains to witness the astounding annual transformation. And so I engage the 5-hour road trip, simply to watch the trees dress in Nature’s tuxedos. But practicality precludes frequent forays to relish Asheville’s glorious eye candy.
Mom further taught me heartache stands as a reliable equalizer, reducing some—across classes—while embolding others. With each uppercut Life hurled, she coaxed inner strength. Finding her legs to stand once again, the Lady raced to soothe those felled by Nature’s gut-wrenching punches. Perspective, taught silently yet emphatically by one woman’s persistent and consistent response to the worst blows Nature can deliver.
Lessons learned, I knee-jerk honor my preDawn date with the massive tree adorning our yard, Monday through Friday. Starting my workday perched on the front porch, my senses absorb Nature’s First Yawn. The experience never grows old. A different cast of characters takes center stage each day, enriching my intense appreciation for the unheralded gifts surrounding me. For example, I eavesdrop as Mr. and Mrs. Squirrel bicker, while chirping birds flit among the tree’s branches. I study the adorable bunny hopping into view, as well as the possum waddling across the lawn. I luxuriate in the breezes caressing my exposed limbs and face, fueling monumental gratitude.
Thousands of mornings, I’ve indulged this weekday habit. Yet only recently did a thought gel: whether furry or feathered, every creature—without exception—eventually gravitates to the tree.
I feel your continuing watchful eyes, Mom. I thank you for the lessons lingering in the painful shadow of your permanent physical absence. You gifted so many spirit-enhancing gems. Perhaps the most empowering remains: find a tree.