The city leaders determined, reluctantly, that the old man had to come down. He stood feebly in the middle of a city park. But he was dying now. The children who played beneath his protective canopy were at risk. Large, brittle branches could fall.
Some of his twisted and gnarled limbs were held up by huge wooden posts. Crutches for an old yet dignified man. A man full of stories. A man who provided home and sanctuary to squirrels, woodpeckers and other creatures. Shade for children.
For twenty five years I passed the old gentleman as he stood sentry in the park, adjacent to city hall and the police department where I work. How many generations has he overseen? How many children played among his fallen acorns and bark?
The arborist’s report was clear. He was dying and likely to fall down before long. And so phone calls were made and workers arrived. With saws and shears the old man was dismantled. Whittled away until, in a final salute, his trunk was felled and it was all over.
Days later I saw a lone squirrel at the edge of the grass. He was spying the stump, the only remaining vestige of the old man’s grandeur. It looked like the squirrel was paying his respects.
The park is more open now. Sunshine freely illuminates the lawn where kids have more space for football. Younger oak trees can be seen more clearly. Aspirants, perhaps, to someday become as proud and tall as the old man.
Our lives are similar to oak trees. Much like acorns, we come from humble origins. We too grow up among the sunshine, rain and fresh air. Our skin ages as bark gnarls. Like the hidden, concentric rings inside the tree trunk, our minds build layers of memories and knowledge. Sometimes we need crutches, too. Sometimes surgeons.
And when we stand no more, our lives are marked with tombstones. Just as the fallen oak’s life is marked by the remaining stump.
What are we to learn about life from an old oak tree? Maybe that we should strive to stand tall. Refuse to bend when life’s challenges and indignities are foisted upon us.
Perhaps we should extend our arms as loving branches for all who come into our meadow. Shed a few tears as the oak shed a few acorns. Breathe deeply like the tree canopy absorbs the breeze. Provide shelter for our family.
And when the younger oaks come into their own, we should bow out gracefully. Exit the meadow knowing that we did our best, spread some love and shared some laughter.
Before the old stump was ground down and completely gone, I saw some children playing on it. I thought how sad that they won’t get to enjoy the old oak like I did.
The long shadow of the old oak may be gone, but not the memory of him.