Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cottonwood Trees

This summer we've had the most amazing monsoon season I've seen since we've lived here. The desert is so green right now. August, the month I always feel the heat melting my skin, has been humid and wet. It's been refreshing.

But, with all the rain, the cottonwood trees have been falling left and right.

John and I were out in the garage one evening this last July, while the rain was coming down. We were putting stuff away, planning our next to-do on the house, when we heard what I thought was thunder cracking and snapping closely. I closed my eyes and covered my head instinctively, but John ran out of the garage to see what was going on.

Our neighbor's cottonwood tree had fallen on her house. This is what it looked like after the cleaning up began.

The next week, our neighbors on the other side of us had their cottonwood tree fall on their house as well.

If you know anything about cottonwoods, they rot and dye from the inside out. You don't know you've got a dying tree, until it's fallen on your roof and you can then see the hollowness inside. They look healthy and beautiful in their brilliant green leaves, and then one day they fall on your roof. They are weak trees that don't weather storms well.

We don't have any cottonwood's on our property. And this summer, I've never been more grateful. We have walnut trees. And if you know anything about walnut trees, they are strong. Their roots go deep and their branches hold firm. And every year I complain about the mess they make, and getting hit on the head by a nut from time to time. But after this summer, I am so grateful for my walnut trees.

I ran into a guy I grew up with the other day, right here in my own community. We grew up in Eagar and our homes were about a mile from each other. We are the same age, and were often in the same classes throughout school. We always had lockers right next to each other in Jr. High, and he was always real nice to me. Sometimes we walked to school together on the days we were going the same direction at the same time. But, he had a hard childhood. I remember thinking that as a kid as I watched him struggle throughout his youth. I remember being so young, yet thinking, "The odds are against him. Why does life have to be so hard for him?"  I remember thinking how unfair life is. How we grew up a mile apart, yet I had two parents who loved me and loved each other. I had rules and support at home, and here he was, trying to find his own way, doing it all alone. Him against the world. It wasn't fair.

So when I ran into him the other day, my heart hurt. Because just by looking at him, and the few minutes we conversed, I could tell it was still him against the world. He spoke of prison and a few bad choices he had made. And even though we are the same age, he looked years older.

My heart hurt for him. And I couldn't help but think of the cottonwood trees. 

And I couldn't help but think of the first time I felt real compassion toward someone. Because for me, it was for this friend when we were kids. And when I say real compassion, I mean not just pitying someone and then going on with life. But true compassion is from a much deeper place within us, with a more eternal perspective. Its having true understanding without judgement.

Life is hard. And we are all flawed. I am in no way saying I am a better person than my friend. Because I'm not. On those few walks to school years ago, I remember admiring his strength, kindness and frankness, and wishing I had those strengths.  Because as a kid, I wasn't always strong. I wasn't always kind. And I often walked the path of least resistance.

But like I said, life is hard. And if we let it, it will destroy us from the inside out. And even though I've always known this, seeing my old friend again, reminded me of this. And it was after this little lesson, that I allowed myself to let go of the built up anger I've harbored against others recently.  And I've taken time to focus on forgiveness and cleansing my own spirit. Because I don't want to be a cottonwood tree.

I want to be a walnut tree.

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