My place of work is in a well-established business park, featuring a campus that is lined with majestic elm trees and pines. The maturity of the landscape is one of the drawing features for new tenants. I have enjoyed many a pleasant morning stroll between buildings; allowing my mind to clear as the refreshing power of nature reinvigorated me. For me, it is a place of harmony and peaceful reflection.
I have often looked up to the towering elm trees that line the perimeter of the interlaced sidewalks connecting the four buildings in the office complex. Most of these arborous wonders rise upward at least fifty feet, if not higher. In the summer, I have rejoiced at the refreshing shade that the leaf-filled branches have been kind enough to share with me. In the autumn, I have enjoyed the sharp sound of crunching leaves underfoot, as I craned my neck upward to see if there were any branches still bearing yellowed or crimson foliage.
My office window looks out into the quadrangle that forms the inner courtyard setting of the campus. It is always nice to look out and give my eyes a break from the tediousness of the computer screen that holds me captive at least eight hours a day. I always have to resist the urge to gaze outward for too long. It would be all too easy for me to lose an entire afternoon contemplating the wonders that nature has repeatedly blessed me with. Alas, the curse of the hopeless philosopher chases me even in the corridors of the corporate world!
This past Monday found me coming into the office once again. I would have preferred to awaken to a sunlit cay on St. Thomas; the temperate tropical breeze blowing in through the patio screen door. Given no immediate sign of an early retirement; the view out my office window was a more than adequate second choice. I glanced out the window at the courtyard and immediately felt my body relax. As I sat down in my office chair and fired up the laptop computer; a sense that something was wrong erratically crossed my mind.
As I looked back out the window, I played grudging witness to the horrible scene of devastation. One of the majestic elm trees at the far end of the quadrangle had toppled over! I could clearly see that the entirety of the massive tree was now lying horizontally across the manicured lawn. The midsection of the thick trunk had shattered a picnic table under its colossal mass. Hopefully the tree had dropped sometime over the weekend; when there was minimal likelihood that the picnic table had been in use!
Mid-morning, I decided it was time to stretch my legs. I went outside and walked slowly towards the site of the fallen elm. I noticed that my stride was exaggeratedly slow, almost as if I was approaching the natural calamity in reverence. It was interesting to see that all of the great branches were filled with dark green leaves. There was not a dead or dying limb to be observed. This tree had been healthy for all visible purposes.
Then I took in the part of the tree that had been below ground. We have been taught that the depth of a tree’s roots go down as far as the tree rises above ground. That meant I should have seen some fifty or so feet of root structure. Instead, I was perplexed to see that the roots extended only about six feet. Looking down into were the tree had been planted, I could see a tangle of roots down in the six foot deep crater below. Turning back to the base of the trunk, I could see where the roots had rotted out. They were splintered, dried, and black in color. Some illness or a colony of insects had eaten away at the roots. Small wonder that the elm had toppled down!
Over the course of day, a landscape crew was dispatched to the scene of the travesty. Using chain saws and a chipper; they quickly cleared the mammoth tree. For good measure, they also cut up the splintered picnic table and tossed the remnants into the back of an already overloaded trailer. Two laborers scooped up the dirt around the hole where the tree had stood. Soon the cavity was filled and patted down firmly. That was it! There was no sign left of the great tree’s prior existence!
All of us are rooted in the ground, in some fashion. We each have our families, friends, coworkers, congregants, and neighbors to hold us in place. With that foundation, we are able to grow strong and flourish. As time marches by, we become taller; and yes our trunks happen to thicken too! Our life accomplishments spread out as mighty limbs and the good that we do in this world is reflected in countless leaves filling the skies.
But we too are susceptible to root rot. When we live in fear or anger, it weakens our roots and threatens our foundation. When we fail to show compassion, when we lose sight of our humanity; the insects begin to bore at our roots. When we forget that we were put on this earth to know joy and to share happiness, to better and enrich the lives of all we meet; the roots of our life begin to turn black. If we allow negativity, doubt, insensitivity, or complacency to enter our roots; it is only a matter of time before we too topple. At that point, our foundation, that in which we are rooted, cannot save us!
I will miss that magnificent old elm tree. It is as if I have lost an old friend. I wonder if anybody was around when it took its plunge to the ground. If not, did it make a sound? I only wish I could have been there to know what its final words were!