When I was in grade school, troubled by all the normal things that could trouble a young child’s mind—popularity, boys, fighting with my brother and sister—I found peace and solace by sitting in the little maple tree in our front yard. It could barely support my developing athletic build, but I would nonetheless climb the small limbs, one after the other, and sit and play sometimes for hours.
My tree seemed to grow with me in mind. Its skinny branches created a stairstep directly to my favorite, cozy perch. It created a haven for me. Its big maple leaves hid me from everything—neighbors and cars drove by never noticing me and similarly, all my worries were left outside the maple tree branches. I would climb and create a make-believe house, which included a living room (where I normally sat) and a make believe adjoining kitchen. In my young mind I suppose it was a small studio apartment with a loft. It was a home away from home, just for me.
What felt like normal adolescent play provided something more, something magical. Sitting in the branches of the small tree, playing until the sun was ready to set over the surrounding hills, always brought peace of mind, love and clarity to my heart. I found myself gravitate towards the tree whenever I needed to find peace. I knew I would leave my tree feeling better. It’s the first time I remember falling in love with nature and becoming keenly aware of what could be learned when you allow yourself to appreciate what’s around you and lean into all that nature provides. I was just a young child but I quickly respected and understood nature’s rejuvenating and enlightening power.
Back then, like most young children, I thought I would have life all figured out as an adult and I could not wait to grow up. I thought I would not have so many worries and it would be easier. Life would be fair and if I worked hard enough, was a good person, took care of myself, and had faith, there wouldn’t be anything that I couldn’t overcome or that could stop me. I wouldn’t need a maple tree to help feel centered. I trusted that adults had it better because, well, you know, they were the adults, the rule makers, the decision makers, and the experts. After all, I never saw any adults climbing trees trying to escape their troubles, which was further proof, in my young mind, that adults had it all together. They moved through the day with a certainty that I admired. I was age-appropriately naive.
Now 46 years later, I would love to climb my maple tree and enjoy that same peace of mind. “Adulting” and peace are antonyms and when you throw children into that mix you add a certain amount of dizziness and confusion. The volume of “ish” that life throws you as an adult is comical and there isn’t anything anyone can ever do or say to prepare for it. It’s as if, as you age, life just piles on–the good stuff and the not so good stuff–but either way, it’s perpetually throwing something at you. The volume of it all, especially in aggregate, can be exhausting. Regardless, as an adult, you are expected to be okay, minimally “fine.”
That’s why I love the notion of finding a maple tree to climb and just sitting, hiding, until I find that same sort of youthful peace I once felt. Imagine me doing that today. I go missing for 10 minutes, my youngest who just likes to know where I am at all times is incessantly calling my name, and I’m outside stuck in some unflattering position trying to climb a tree I have no business trying to climb. So much for finding peace–can someone call the fire department to get me down?
So today, I have to find the type of peace I used to feel while sitting in my tree in other ways. It looks more like short stints of quiet, mommy time in the car between drop offs, five minutes alone in the bathroom, walking the dog, zoning out while sitting in a grocery store parking lot before pulling out or through the white noise of the nail salon. It’s found in the small moments of being aware, present, and accepting of whatever life has thrown my way no matter how good or difficult. It’s found in reminding myself, however possible, just how small and temporary we all are and just how small and temporary our problems are in the grand scheme of things. It’s remembering that despite that smallness and the temporary state of problems and life, everything is happening as it should.
Life is messy and imperfect and not particularly easy — that’s sort of the point. It’s a process, a test each day, an unexpected gift or challenge, a blessing and/or unfathomable pain. It’s a matrix of guilt, shame, love, elation, willpower, discipline, doubt, confusion, confidence, and more, and those things are often experienced all at the same time. It’s controlled chaos with peaks and valleys of calm thrown in there and it is beautiful, every moment of it, despite the possible exhaustion. It’s easy to get worn down by the volume of life, our childhood notions, adult expectations, varying emotions, societal pressures, the wants, needs and/or even the opinions of others. But, to keep going, to get through, I think it’s key to find a tree of sorts, and climb.
I pray my little girl (and her brother) find their tree. I hope it allows them to continually find their center, their code, and when they do, each time they do, I hope they will stay true to it no matter what. The reward is feeling as if you are wrapped in the arms of a maple tree and trust me, there’s nothing quite like that.