Summer Short 3
Gathering Branches

There have been lots of big, thundery rain storms this summer. The kind that scare you even though you are way too big to be scared by thunderstorms anymore. The wind doesn’t howl, it screams. The rain doesn’t fall, it is driven, hard, merciless, and torrential. The trees do not sway, they creak, bend and moan, their fine limbs ripped away. Sometimes they are fully uprooted.

Being human, it is inevitable that you will be hurt and that you will hurt others. Unintended hurts are as common as small branches scattered on the ground after a storm. But I have found that it is the unacknowledged hurts that really uproot us.

What causes us to hurt each another? It is hard to say but I think it has to do with our forgotten awareness of our fragility. As babies, we are quite aware of the countless frailties of our temporary human form and we fight back with the only weapon at our disposal. It is not by accident that the sound of a human baby crying illicites such a reaction in us. We are hard wired to respond to a baby’s cry. (Although I find it obvious that women’s brains must be programmed to higher levels of attentiveness in this regard.)

Somewhere along the way though, we are taught that our fragility is a lie. That we aren’t really subject to the powerful storms of life. That if we build enough shelter around us the storms can’t hurt us. But just as the basic fear of our needs going unanswered as babies makes us cry out, it is the basic fear of feeling vulnerable that we feel the need to protect ourselves, isolate ourselves, elevate ourselves as adults. It is out of fear that we feel the need to control our environment and others.

But when its basic needs of survival are met, when in a moment of peace, a baby feels quite a different need, a sudden requirement to connect and belong to the other living beings around it. Laughing and smiling, its need to embrace and love is as strong a desire as its need for food. And so it is with us, we can’t escape feeling both fear and peace, of being both hurtful and loving. It seems we can never escape the many paradoxes of being human.

In my front yard, there is an enormous 100 year old oak tree that I have been remis in having pruned for years. After every kind of storm, rain, wind or snow, I am forced to pick up the countless branches that fall. Most are small, carrying many in my hands to throw in a heap at the curb for collection. Sometimes, a large one comes down that I must drag to the curb behind me. Like my oak after a storm, when we hurt each other, the best recourse is to acknowledge what’s been done and get busy cleaning up the mess. This is known as the simple but enormously powerful act of making amends.

Storm after storm, we are thrown into each other but it is only by overcoming our fear, however briefly, that the world is kept whole by bravely picking up the branches – no matter how small or large and no matter how long after delivering the hurt. In this way trust and integrity is restored because love has no way to be acted on without something truthful to respond to. Owning what we’ve done can reopen the heart.

Finally, early this summer, I had the tree company come and prune my oak. It was a loud 3 hours as they chainsawed and then grinded the dead branches into wood chips. Once they were done, I looked up and saw more openness between the branches so more sunlight could make its way through the leaves and I felt the tree sigh in relief.

Now there are very few if any branches to pick up after the storms and it feels freeing, for both of us.