It was such a tiny thing, the maple sapling growing in my dad’s garden. Not more than a few feet tall, it swayed on every gentle breeze, its top nearly touching the ground in a graceful bow. Even though it had rooted itself smack in the middle of Dad’s sweet potato crop, our family didn’t have the heart to destroy it. For it represented something precious to us: new life, a sign we sorely needed after Dad’s death a few months before. He’d passed of a massive heart attack right in his back yard, just a short distance from the garden he had treasured so much. Needless to say, it was a shock to us all, and our only consolation was that Dad had been doing what he loved: working his soil, tending his plants.
I watched the little tree grow all that summer. When I needed to cry, I’d stand at the edge of the garden and stare at the lone maple, as if answers could be found within its infant boughs. The sweet potatoes flourished all around it. I began to wonder how and when we would harvest them, and if we could do so without uprooting the tree. Bob, the next-door neighbor, offered to help. That, too, was a place where new roots had taken hold. There had been words between Bob and my parents. Some long-ago dispute over the fence separating their two yards. Amazingly, they hadn’t spoken in years. But as we dug the potatoes together, as we shook away the errant dirt and stood admiring our bounty, that silly fence was all but forgotten. In gratitude, my mom gave Bob some of the potatoes. He appeared humbled by the gesture, and said that he and his wife would remember us at Thanksgiving. The potatoes graced our Thanksgiving table as well, a poignant reminder of Dad and the garden he had started, the garden we had finished.
The next summer, we had to let Dad’s garden go. Mom was getting up in years, and without Dad’s expertise and passion, without his tilling and planting and nurturing, maintaining a garden would be too much of an undertaking. Bob helped us seed the area, and soon there was grass where sustenance used to be. Still, though, the tree remained. We would let it grow tall. We would let it grow deep. We would let its roots burrow into the soil and its branches reach heavenward, at peace with the knowledge that it would somehow find its place against the bright blue sky.
Yesterday marked thirteen years that my dad has been gone. My mom has long since moved from that house where she lived for half a lifetime, where I spent much of my childhood. I often think of the little tree and the way it seemed so intent on making its home within that small, well-used plot of land. And I’m struck by the realization that we are all blessed with a certain measure of moments. What we make of those moments not only depends on how and where we establish our roots, but perhaps more importantly, on how well we tend our soil and mend our fences. That is the true miracle, as we, too, reach heavenward and find our own shining place in the sun.
Until next time,