Just a few miles from our house, there’s an old, dilapidated rake that was left in a grove years ago. I noticed it one summer when we’d gone to pick strawberries at Puryear’s Produce farm in Halifax County.
Seasons and years have passed since that rake was first abandoned. Rebecca Clark Puryear was almost a teenager the day her daddy bought his new rake. She remembers that day nearly eighty-three years ago as though it was yesterday.
“My daddy had bought a new rake that could be pulled by a tractor. This one was pulled by a mule, and he always unhitched the mule from the rake right there next to the stable and corn crib,” she explained.
I suppose that John Clark came in from the field that day, stopped at his usual place near the stable, and unhitched the mule from the rake for the last time. I don’t know if he planned to move the rake at some later time or not.
At any rate, life happened . . . A hackberry sprout began to grow in the empty space beside the stable and corn crib, next to the deserted rake.
In time, the sapling pushed through the soil where the abandoned rake sat and waited. Over the years, the hackberry tree grew, and the rake remained just where it had been placed years before. The tree grew in and around the rake. Its trunk encompassed the rake, even while making room for the rake as it spread its branches and reached skyward. Now the two are bound together. To remove either one, both would be affected.
On another day and on a different road, I noticed another pair of trees that have grown together. Somehow, sometime, a crepe myrtle shoot managed to push through the trunk of a red cedar tree; now its branches and blossoms spread around the entire cedar tree. The red cedar stands taller than the crepe myrtle, but when I pulled back the branches and peered underneath, I noticed that the crepe myrtle had pushed through the trunk of the red cedar in several places. Now the bases of their trunks are so interwoven that it is difficult to see where one stops and another one begins.
I have no idea how long it has taken for them to become so intertwined. But I do know that life happened. Anyone wanting to move one of the two would need to destroy the other in order to do so.
I am certain that, in both cases, no one noticed the small shoot that grew stronger as it grew taller and spread its branches. No one would have guessed it would happen like this. And so, unnoticed and unhindered, they grew together. The years came and went, and the trees kept growing.
How like life it is. We spend our years just like that . . . . . as a tale that is told.
Life happens. A newborn baby grows, takes its first steps, says first words, and experiences firsts of everything. Circumstances and experiences help bend and shape, and before we know it, years have passed and we begin experiencing our lasts*, just like the rake claimed by the tree.
Time marches on, we’ve heard it said. We’ve probably repeated the phrase ourselves. And it’s true. Yet while time is moving, we so often fail to notice the small pressures and influences that shape our lives, or how susceptible we are to the persistence of life’s experiences around us.
We don’t think about the habits we’re forming, the attitudes we are carrying, or the emotions ensnaring us. Until, that is, one day we’re grown and the choices we’ve consciously or subconsciously made have a profile of their own. We’ve continued on, our path unnoticed and unhindered, making our own way, defining our own destiny.
Life happens. Seasons come and go. Trees spring into action after winter, producing pastel shoots that change to deep forest green by summer. Sun, wind, rain and frost produce changes in those same trees come fall, and all the earth is ablaze with splendor. Then another winter comes, and another spring, and another summer. Before we know it, another year of seasons is gone. And all the time, we’ve been growing and spreading our branches, shaping our lives and the lives of others, one small ring at a time.
Life happens. It happens so slowly that we are oblivious to the difference that is taking place. We’ve changed in ways we never would have thought were possible.
I find this truth both sobering and encouraging.
I find it sobering because, years from now, I won’t be able to go back and undo the direction I have taken. That’s because my priorities will be ingrained. Habits and attitudes will be so rooted that it will be difficult to hack away and attempt to undo those changes without great pain. The trunk of my tree will be solid and fixed. It will be too late to change the bent of the tree without removing branches.
I find this truth encouraging because, while at times it seems I’m not making a difference, I know that perseverance will bring results. When I grow weary, I remember that old rake bound to the trunk of the tree. I picture the tall red cedar surrounded by purple crepe myrtle blossoms. I know that one achievement, one success, one sturdy shoot, or one prayer can make a difference.
Oh, I might not notice the results instantly. But years from now, my story will continue even after I am gone. I am spending my years as a tale that will, one day, be told.
Life happens. When life around me seems to be in constant turmoil and change, I remember especially the promise in scripture. While the earth lasts, the seasons will continue as they have every year since creation. It’s a promise. Though all around me, things are changing, God does not change. It’s a promise.
His mercies are new, every morning.
He is always the same. That is a promise, too – even as life happens.
This article was first published in 2008 in the e-zine Discover Southside. The rake and the tree still stand, as do the red cedar and crepe myrtle trees.
With thanks to Karen Kingsbury, who introduced the idea in her book Let Me Hold You Longer