It started yesterday. Actually, it started last week when the signs were posted along the street, warning of no parking over the next few days. Then the big white Xs appeared on the trunk of an old tree on the corner. The end was imminent. Yesterday they chopped off the big limbs off the top, and this morning when I came home from the gym, the trunk was almost level with the ground.
I feel like I'm losing an old friend. Not that I've known this tree for very long--but it was very old (maybe it saw George Washington march through to Mt. Vernon?), and it was quite friendly. I love the way these old trees cover the streets of my neighborhood. Their leaves shade from the summer sun, produce brilliant color in the fall, and hold white slivers of snow in the winter.
A couple of months ago during a freak windstorm in the middle of the night, a very large branch broke off a tree directly across from our house, landing just in between two cars and causing a huge ruckus. The sound of the cops pounding on our neighbor's door, trying to arouse her from her sleep to tell her that her car had been hit, woke us up. The limb took up the whole width of the street; someone said it had been rotting for quite a while but the city wouldn't cut it down. I know, I know, these kinds of imminent dangers require careful preventative planning, but to cut down the whole tree? The corner feels so naked and bare now.
But I guess the whole idea of pruning is painful but true. Kendall reminded me of Hugh B. Brown's story, The Gardener and the Currant Bush:
In the early dawn, a young gardener was pruning his trees and shrubs. He had one choice currant bush which had gone too much to wood. He feared therefore that it would produce little, if any, fruit.
Accordingly, he trimmed and pruned the bush and cut it back. In fact, when he had finished, there was little left but stumps and roots.
Tenderly he considered what was left. It looked so sad and deeply hurt. On every stump there seemed to be a tear where the pruning knife had cut away the growth of early spring. The poor bush seemed to speak to him, and he thought he heard it say:
"Oh, how could you be so cruel to me; you who claim to be my friend, who planted me and cared for me when I was young, and nurtured and encouraged me to grow? Could you not see that I was rapidly responding to your care? I was nearly half as large as the trees across the fence, and might soon have become like one of them. But now you've cut my branches back; the green, attractive leaves are gone, and I am in disgrace among my fellows."
The young gardener looked at the weeping bush and heard its plea with sympathetic understanding. His voice was full of kindness as he said, "Do not cry; what I have done to you was necessary that you might be a prize currant bush in my garden. You were not intended to give shade or shelter by your branches. My purpose when I planted you was that you should bear fruit. When I want currants, a tree, regardless of its size, cannot supply the need.
"No, my little currant bush, if I had allowed you to continue to grow as you had started, all your strength would have gone to wood; your roots would not have gained a firm hold, and the purpose for which I brought you into my garden would have been defeated. Your place would have been taken by another, for you would have been barren. You must not weep; all this will be for your good; and some day, when you see more clearly, when you are richly laden with luscious fruit, you will thank me and say, `Surely, he was a wise and loving gardener. He knew the purpose of my being, and I thank him now for what I then thought was cruelty.'"
Some years later, this young gardener was in a foreign land, and he himself was growing. He was proud of his position and ambitious for the future.
One day an unexpected vacancy entitled him to promotion. The goal to which he had aspired was now almost within his grasp, and he was proud of the rapid growth which he was making.
But for some reason unknown to him, another was appointed in his stead, and he was asked to take another post relatively unimportant and which, under the circumstances, caused his friends to feel that he had failed.
The young man staggered to his tent and knelt beside his cot and wept. He knew now that he could never hope to have what he had thought so desirable. He cried to God and said, "Oh, how could you be so cruel to me? You who claim to be my friend—you who brought me here and nurtured and encouraged me to grow. Could you not see that I was almost equal to the other men whom I have so long admired? But now I have been cut down. I am in disgrace among my fellows. Oh, how could you do this to me?"
He was humiliated and chagrined and a drop of bitterness was in his heart, when he seemed to hear an echo from the past. Where had he heard those words before? They seemed familiar. Memory whispered:
"I'm the gardener here."
He caught his breath. Ah, that was it—the currant bush! But why should that long-forgotten incident come to him in the midst of his hour of tragedy? And memory answered with words which he himself had spoken:
"Do not cry. . .what I have done to you was necessary. . .you were not intended for what you sought to be,. . .if I had allowed you to continue. . .you would have failed in the purpose for which I planted you and my plans for you would have been defeated. You must not weep; some day when you are richly laden with experience you will say, `He was a wise gardener. He knew the purpose of my earth life. . . . I thank him now for what I thought was cruel.'"
His own words were the medium by which his prayer was answered. There was no bitterness in his heart as he humbly spoke again to God and said, "I know you now. You are the gardener, and I the currant bush. Help me, dear God, to endure the pruning, and to grow as you would have me grow; to take my allotted place in life and ever more to say, `Thy will not mine be done.'