Reflection on a Dying Tree

Philip O’Shea, OFM Friar News

Spring is usually a time of new beginnings, but this year, a resident of the Province’s skilled nursing home is experiencing a loss – the pear tree outside his window is slated to be destroyed. As he contemplates his own death along with the death of the tree, he praises God for all he does to make us see his presence everywhere, even in the loss of something precious.

There is a beautiful flowering pear tree outside my window here at Holy Name Friary in Ringwood, N.J. It was planted by Joseph Trunk, OFM, and it is large and full of blossoms. However, it has undergone great damage during the past winter, losing many limbs without losing its symmetry. It has bark disease and must come down.

Over the past two and a half years of my stay here, the tree has been an inspiration in many ways, not only because of its white flowers, but also because of the dark green of its leaves in contrast to the other trees surrounding it. As I contemplate its destruction, I find myself identifying with it and saying to myself, “When the tree goes, I must go with it.”

Death means many things to many people. While this is not a human being, its presence lifts us out of ourselves and its absence leaves a void that is difficult to fill.

I find it easier to contemplate my own passing than to adjust to the absence of this tree. I ask myself to what degree does the disappearance of the tree leave a void, whereas my own death is a configuration without end? It is interesting how the things around us constitute such an important aspect to our lives. The absence of beauty makes contemplation of the gift of eternal life more difficult.

Thanks be to God my faith is strong, but I am surprised at the sadness which the loss of this tree brings to me. As a Friar Minor, I should not lay claim to anything, and yet I realize that my love of this tree is not a possessive one, but rather one that finds fulfillment in the expression “Praise God for creation.” It’s not my tree, but it has meant much to me. Its impending removal from my life allows me to see its absence not as a void, but as a new revelation of what life in this world really means.

I pray that the tree may somehow be preserved, and yet I accept that its absence adds dimension to the presence of God within us all. I pray for a gardener who will work on it “one more year,” but I do not curse it for its inability to stay alive. An old man living on contemplates a relatively new tree coming down, but the continuation of life by some marvelous reality takes on new and deeper meaning. Some day I shall go as this tree is going now, but my going will be made more meaningful having born the loss of this tree.

Praise God for all that he has done and continues to do to make us see his presence everywhere, even in the loss of something precious.

Fr. Philip, a native of Massachusetts, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today. He moved to Holy Name Friary in Ringwood, N.J., in 2015.




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