Cut it down, he said. I never really understood why he was so intent. Cut it down. Cut it down. I had always been curious about the name of that tree. For years, it danced like a New Delhi princess outside my kitchen. I used to know a horticulturist. I asked her about that tree, my tree, one day. She told me to bring her a leaf. Just from the leaf, she would be able to tell which kind of tree it was. Every week, I thought about bringing that leaf in, but I never did. I was content to call it "my tree." Its name was me. Free. Full of spirit. Reaching ever higher. It was his dream to cut it down one day.
Each spring, when my tree swelled with life, he got the clippers, and the saw. If he couldn't cut it down, he would cut it back. Keep it from being so invasive, so unbridled. Take it easy, I would plead. Not so much.Yet the boughs fell to the earth. Devoured by the jaws of his hands. For most of every March, my tree was lopsided. Naked. Embarrassed. I know it was embarrassed. Humiliated. Shamed. The beauty of my tree was its free form. Some branches praised the sky, and others kissed the earth.
By September, though, most of what had been destroyed had grown again. Just in time to lay to winter rest. And then to face another March.
Year after year, March after March. The same old thing. Clipping. Fallen branches. Dragging them to the curb was my job. He just wanted to be there for the mutilation. This March, something different happened. He still clipped. The pile of limbs, hacked and bloodied, were stacked in a huge mound. I strained to reach the ones on top. In my navy blue sweat jacket, torn jeans, and yellow gloves, I hauled. And I dragged. And I laid the dead out for the wagon. But this March, instead of wood and foliage, I saw wasted life. And I wondered why. What right was there to steal the essence of the tree? Quietly, I grieved. Always quietly. In the bathroom, in the night.
Defiantly, my tree, as if fed by indignation, scurried to replenish its former beauty.
Then they came. Two men tied ropes around my tree. As if she were a mad elephant, they roped her. And instead of a pair of stifling clippers, they brought roaring death. They weren't after her hair anymore. They were after her heart. She fell in chunks. I served the men coffee. Her remains remain stacked in my yard. All that was left in her place, was the stump. At least it was a place to sit, and recall the cardinals that came to feed there. And the mourning doves that groaned in the cool sunrise.
An icy morning. A man with hair of snow brought a huge mechanical steel rod. He positioned it at the base of her stump. His body convulsed as he bore his machine into the dark soil. Deeper and deeper he burrowed, ripping her open, grinding her down. I gave him money. The man hoisted his pants, and drove away. I averted my gaze from the hole where my tree had once been. How could I possibly accept that she was gone? How could I believe that she deserved it, that she had it coming? If only she had stayed in her place; If only she had accepted her pruning. If only she had been content to let him redesign her.
The house is too hot this year, without her. The windows I painted are fading in the sun. I haven't cut the grass in a long time. I didn't plant any flowers. The birdbaths have all run dry. Queen Anne's lace and goldenrod have sprouted along the fence. Wild flowers.
I have been consumed with my own pruning this summer. I got a big saw. Some angels helped me raise it, and bring it down again upon the disease that had nearly consumed me. It was a big job, and I am exhausted from the effort. I know I must have looked outside at some point during the past few months. But I just don't remember.
In the whispers of intimate strangers, I heard the spirit of my tree calling to me. I pulled on my torn jeans. I didn't even take the time to find socks. I trimmed the lavender. I sheared the hedges and filled the birdbaths with fresh, cold water. I followed my own path in the newly cut grass. When I got to the place where my tree had once been, I really looked, for the first time. Gone was the hole. Gone was the mulch of her innocence. There at my feet, praise be to all that is good and holy, were three saplings
in her place.
I don't know if I will be here when March comes again. I don't know if I will be able to welcome back the cardinals, and the doves. I don't know where I will be growing come spring. But this I do know: I shall never stand by again, while they grind me down.
The preceding is an excerpt from the book, Taking the Stairs: My Journal of Healing and Self-Discovery by Julie Scipioni McKown Get the free PDF version here. When you subscribe to the TakingTheStairs blog, you will receive regular book excerpts, each one followed by author commentary.
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