Anatomy of a Storyteller: On the Road: The Tree of Life

              I have penned this a dozen times. Each time it is as vivid as the first. Each time it is as glorious.

              I think I was young, about six years old which would make it about 1959 or 1960. We were attending the big Presbyterian Church in town and listening to very Presbyterian sermons, if you know what I mean. This one was about love and what I heard was God loved us so much, he died for us. God gave himself to us completely. Unfortunately, we cannot love God in the same way in return. We are not going to die for God nor can we give ourselves completely to him in the same way. God simply has no need for us in that way. So the way we love God is to love our neighbor. When we give ourselves completely to our neighbor, we are loving God…

              You get the idea. It was all about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and doing good works as a way of expressing love for God. Yes, that perspective on the Christian faith began that many years ago. But even then, young as I was, something about that construction did not sound right. It seemed to me that doing good for our neighbors showed love for our neighbors, not God. I saw God as being cut out from the whole mix.

              So that night, I went to bed with a simple prayer. “God, the minister said I cannot love you. I know loving my neighbor is important, but if you wouldn’t mind, could I love you, too even as you love me?” I remember I cried.

              When I woke, I was much older, though of an indeterminate age. My back was to a tree. The aroma, with my eyes shut tight, was glorious. It smelled of life, and I could feel that life, somehow, flowing up the tree from roots deep in the soil. No other word would do but life. When I opened my eyes I drew in my breath. The tree at my back was bigger than anything I had ever seen. It was bigger than the Empire State Building. It was bigger than all the trees in all the world put together. It was so big, I could not see the curvature in the trunk, though I walked a hundred yards away.

              I looked up. The innumerable branches stretched out to catch the light that must have been blinding in the heights. I could not look straight up, but in any case I could not see the top of the tree as it reached way beyond the clouds.

              So I looked at the branches and the first thing I noticed was the fruit. It was round but variously sized and it appeared to be variously colored as well. I noticed one near the trunk that was small and the color of copper, one that was green and swirled, one that was blue and covered with white swirls, and one that was red before the branch broke into a number of immature fruit. Further out on the branch there was huge fruit with a big red spot. The one beyond that had rings like stamen of a flower, and I closed my eyes and shook my head. My imagination was running away with me.

              With my eyes closed again, I heard the song. It was like the aroma, glorious. I could not make out words, but it seemed to me there was meaning in that song, and I had to open my eyes again to see what was singing. There were birds, white like doves, but the song they sang was complex beyond anything I could have made up, and beautiful beyond anything I could have imagined. I was staring at the birds, a smile across my face, when a blackbird jumped between two doves and let out a terrible squawk. It startled me, but only for a second as the white birds took that raucous sound and wove it into a thing of beauty. Then I saw another blackbird. And I looked, and they were everywhere, trying to disrupt the glorious sounds of this heavenly host. But they never succeeded, as every sour note and every screech and whistle was taken up by the white birds and perfectly woven into the whole. The song was never less glorious for the least moment.

              I was glad. I smiled, and could not stop my lips from turning up for the warmth I felt inside. And I thought I would sit again with my back to that trunk where I could feel the pulse of life running up the veins of the tree of life, smell the aroma of life and hear the beauty of the music that was the praise of the heavens. With that, I slept.

              I do not remember what I felt or thought in the morning when I woke again in my six-year-old bed.


Note: This chronicle, or memoir if you prefer, will not always present itself in chronological order. It will come as memory dictates, and hopefully that will not be too difficult to follow.


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