Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Survivor Tree

A pear tree is a gift from the gods.
-Homer/ The Odyssey

I held it’s branch the way one may hold someone’s hand; the kind of hand holding necessary when there are no words. My fingers wrapped gently around the lowest branch of the pear tree as I stared up at Freedom Tower.

There is no plaque explaining the story, but anyone could tell this tree was different than the other landscaping by the metal fence around it and the chains wrapped around it’s trunk. Word-of-mouth travels fast at what was once ground zero. Someone passing by mentioned, “It’s the last living thing to be pulled from the rubble. It’s the survivor tree.”

The “survivor tree,” originally planted in the 1970’s between buildings four and five of the World Trade Center complex, now grows in between the two reflecting pools that replaced the footprints of tower one and two. Charred, decapitated and severed at the roots, it was found still giving off green leaves on one of its branches. Arborists from the New York City Parks Department explain in this video how they nursed it back to health. The seedlings from this miraculous tree were carefully collected and propagated at a Queens, New York high school agriculture program. Descendant trees are now thriving from Oklahoma City to Boston; gifts to cities still recovering from their own devastating losses.

In the thirteen years since it’s rescue, the survivor tree has grown from eight-feet tall to more than thirty-feet tall. It’s legend as a symbol of resiliency and healing continues to flourish with each new spring bloom.  But there is far greater symbolism in this widely reported story that no one else seems to be paying attention to.

 In literature, art and mythology, the pear tree has long symbolized strength and fortitude and influenced culture and religions worldwide. In China, the pear tree symbolizes immortality. The Chinese translation for pear means both pear and separation, and has fostered a tradition never to separate or divide a pair. A pair, like twin towers?

From Renaissance paintings like the “Madonna and Pear” and Leonardo Davinci’s Botanical Fables to references in Homer’s “Odysey”, Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and Charles Dickens “David Copperfield,” the pear tree has served as an enduring literary symbol. In the West, where Christianity dominates, the pear tree is a metaphor for a sacred tree and the holy spirit, known for longevity, justice, strength and fruitfulness. In the Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the partridge is symbolic of satan stealing souls (game birds are known for stealing eggs from other bird's nests) while the pear tree is symbolic of man’s salvation.

In a case, where no writer could’ve made up a more poignant script, the arborist who tended to the tree found a dove nesting amidst the tree's new growth before it was returned to the World Trade Center. The dove is the universal symbol of love and peace.  Not a bluebird, a cardinal or even a pigeon. A dove. It wasn't an oak, a birch or a maple that survived. It was a pear tree.

Do you ever think there is something much grander going on than we can possibly imagine?

Monday, May 19, 2014

To Tame

I will dedicate this book to the child from this grown-up grew. all grownups were once children-although few of them remember it.
-Antoine de Saint Exupery

Due to the popularity of our Little Free Library, we built a second book box just for kids. The concept is to “take a book, leave a book.” Generous neighbors leave more than they take and occasionally, I have to clean ours out. Yesterday, I happened across a first edition copy of “The Little Prince” written by Antoine de Saint Exupery in the children’s box. Written in 1943, this story is a surreal parable about the truth we know as children and all the different ways we adults forget.

Grown-ups love figures…When you tell them you’ve made a new friend, they never ask you questions about essential matters. They never say to you, ‘What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?

Saint Exupery narrates from the perspective of a pilot whose plane crashes in a remote African desert and stumbles upon a prince from another planet. The story is borrowed from life experience. The French poet and journalist really did crash a plane in the African desert, hallucinated and nearly died of dehydration. The childlike prince from another planet character resembles the author’s beloved brother who died as a teen.

Much has been written about the influence of war and lost love on the story. But to me, it was the lessons the little prince shared with the pilot about his journey that were the most profound. During the prince’s intergalactic travels, he came across a king who wanted to rule him, a conceited man who needed his admiration, a businessman who wanted to own everything (including the stars), an alcoholic who wanted to drown his shame, a worker who simply took orders and a scholar who wrote about things he never saw for himself.

‘The grown ups are certainly very odd,’ he said to himself as he continued on his journey.

Finally, on his visit to Earth, the prince came across a wise fox who shared with him the secret of life, which lies in friendship, establishing ties or in the fox’s words “to tame” one another.  The prince eventually shared this secret with the stranded pilot.

The book was left in the children’s box. Clearly, a mistake. Kids don’t need a parable to understand that “the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.”

Who will you tame today?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What You Don't Know

Your greatness is measured by your kindness; your education and intellect by your modesty; your ignorance is betrayed by your suspicions and prejudices, and your real caliber is measured by the consideration and tolerance you have for others.
-William J.H. Boetcker

My daughter had a playdate yesterday at her future new school where she will start kindergarten next fall. We saw some familiar faces, including a little boy I have noticed from a different class at her preschool. He is kind of hard to miss with his long flowing hair. Beautiful light brown hair with sun kissed highlights. It’s the kind of hair any girl would envy, with ringlets halfway down his back, but not too curly. I admit I did a double take the first time I saw him on the playground. He was running the way only little boys can- full steam, unstoppable, fearless. But he didn’t look like a boy. A few months later, I saw him again while a photographer was taking holiday portraits. He was posing with his little sister, who had a short bob. Strange. Clearly, his parents were making some sort of  statement, I thought. 

So yesterday while talking to this lovely woman, I realized she was the boy-with-the-long-hair’s mother. “Was the hair her son’s idea or hers,” I asked. She hesitated. Clearly, I wasn’t the first person to inquire or comment.

“People have a real problem with his hair. They either think we are some type of hippies or I have had other parents tell me it’s distracting and confusing to the other children,” The mom said, not entirely sure whether I fell in one of those camps. Then she told me the reason.

When her son was two, his sister was born premature and was put in a medically induced coma for weeks. This boy was spending a lot of time in a pediatric intensive care unit. With what I imagine to be the limited vocabulary of a two-year-old, he had questions about the many children without hair and somehow told his parents he wanted to share his hair with them. He hasn’t had a haircut since.

“We trim it, of course. Locks of Love likes it cut straight across. But he always tells us not to take off too much,” the mom said as I was summoned to the swingset to push.

Her daughter is healthy and thriving now. While her hair is still catching up, they keep it short. Her son is going to have his haircut this summer right before school starts. Soon, their family will blend in. He will look like all the other boys.

I’m glad I got to meet them before that happens.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Glimpse of Wonder

He who can no longer pause to wander and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.
-Albert Einstein

Instead of making resolutions at the beginning of the year, I made a bucket list. Call it a be-more-childlike bucket list. Not the jump-out-of-airplanes-meet-a-sitting-president-before-I-die kind of list. Besides, I’ve already done those things. My list looks like: call my high school friend Kelly more, create a terrarium, and visit a botanical garden. “Boring,” you say. Is it?

Making a list like mine has a few benefits. First, it got me thinking about the things that really make me happy, the stuff that feeds my curiosity when I allow my mind to wander. Most of the items on my list don’t require money, or discipline, but they do require time and intentionality. This type of bucket list is less about doing, and more about being, specifically being with myself. Not the I-need-an-hour-to-get-my-hair-done kind of time, either. I’m talking about slowing down long enough to check in, pause to wander and stand rapt in awe. Making the time to do nothing, then seizing the opportunity to do anything. Going on a playdate. Alone.

My date yesterday consisted of playing hookie from a writing conference in Fort Lauderdale, then taking the long way to Fairchild Botanical Gardens. I soaked up the dilapidated mid-century modern motels along US-1 and

oversized banyon trees consuming crumbling art deco apartments in between Hollywood and Miami Shores. Beautiful decay. Impermanence. New growth. I navigated through the urban jungle of downtown Miami before arriving in the timelessly elegant Coral Gables. Fairchild Botanical Gardens is an 85- acre collection of thousands of rare trees and plants from across the globe. There are more than 400 species alone that start with the letter A. I took about a ga-jillion pictures and when my battery was down to 1%, I took a few more of what I’m guessing is the blossom of a banana plant. The breeze rustled the leaves to allow a glimmer of sunlight into my last picture just before my iPhone died. 

When I recharged it, this is what I found. This light travelled 93 million miles, going at a rate of 186 thousand miles a second to show up in this sun selfie. Ironic, that it required me to slow down to catch a glimpse.

By the way, I bought a terrarium house in the gift shop and called my friend Kelly on the way home.

What will you put on your bucket list?
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