The path winds through the tangle of cedars and live oak trees, their branches so intermingled that it is difficult to discern where one tree ends and another begins. Knobby, bare branches support limbs thick with the blossoming of spring. The sunlight pierces in through the foliage like daggers, casting one final, glorious glow upon the piles of fallen leaves; illuminating them as if to say that their act of decay is just as important as the budding of life above them.
I think of all that has bloomed in my life as of late. Things are growing rampantly; three children, now, personal successes I finally feel ready to reach for. The soil of my life is rich, and yes, I am flourishing, yet, there is this lingering doubt that I won’t be strong enough to support it all. What if I crack under the weight, the pressure?
What if this responsibility of growing taller and taller as I reach out to embrace the sunlight breaks me in the end?
My three-year-old is laying out five stones on the gravel path beneath us. “One, two, three, four, five, ” he counts, meticulously. “One is Daddy; one is Mama; one is Brother; one is Sister; and one is Me. One, two, three, four, five.”
“Yes, there are five of us now,” I wonder to myself, feeling as though I have only just realized the depths of it all. Over and over he counts us, as though the rocks validate our existence amongst the cedar trees.
When I urge him to move along, a mile to go on our hike through the woods, he begins to cry at the thought of leaving the rocks behind. His pants are without pockets and his little hands cannot hold all five; they are love personified, now, how can choose which of “us” to leave behind? I watch to see which he will decide to carry. The one, which represented himself? I wonder if he will leave them all together, a tiny family cast off in the dirt. He does neither. He has found a way. He tucks each rock into his sock, nestling them in close to his right ankle. If they are bothersome with their sharp edges and bulk as we continue to walk, he does not mention the pain. He skips ahead of me with glee, though weighted down, because he has found a way to carry us all home. And it breaks my heart.
The joy with which he bears the load just rips me right in two. I can’t carry it all, anymore. The weight of growing, and birthing, and nurturing, and giving, and working, and caring, and loving, and raising — I can’t carry it all. There is no place within me left to hold it all in. I am teetering on an edge and I feel that I am about to slip down into the canyon lying in wait below me, anticipating my fall, eager to mock me and my failure.
As the tears fill my eyes I begin to search the woods for something. Anything. I ask for a sign. A little bird to point me in the right direction, perhaps, to back me down from my ledge; but there are no birds. Though I hear their songs, they are as elusive as the rays of sunlight, dancing throughout the trees.
Suddenly, it strikes me. The breath catches in my throat. The birdsongs quiet and the noises of my children’s chatter fade away. My feet become rooted in the earth below me. There, right before me, is a perfect heart, quietly waiting to be discovered in the trees.
A cedar tree; its limb severed. It will not regenerate. What it has given up will not return. One might view it as an assault; a violent affront of humanity meddling with nature.
And yet, it seemed as though the tree was grateful for the severance, or at least that it understood the necessity for letting go; a shedding of parts obsolete, before the whole of it withered and died.
One branch too many to support — it was time to let it go.
The tree did not mourn its loss. It did not fall to the earth with rage or self-deprecation, cursing its roots for their failure.
It simply stood with love for what had been, and hope for what was to come.
We cannot carry it all. Sometimes love looks like letting go.
“Come on, mama!” Their voices call to me, waking me from my trance with the tree.
“Come and see this heart in the tree! Do you see the way it has given up a piece of itself, and only love was left behind?”
My six-year-old grins at the thought of it. “Like the Giving Tree,” he marvels, running away to skip stones across the creek with his brother.