This week, as I ducked around the rain and potholes and tire gators and other detritus tossed about on the highway, I started thinking about luckiness and unluckiness and the Great Tree of Sorrow. I was lucky that I didn’t have an accident riding this week, lucky that for three days I dodged all the rain that was predicted. Well, you can guess what happened. On the fourth day I got soaked. It couldn’t be helped. I had been helping out at a free meal program Thursday evening doing my usual things, reading books, making paper airplanes for some of the 39 kids I counted that night. One kid, maybe three years old, wouldn’t let me read to him and instead kept sticking these rubber animals in my face: dinosaurs, tigers, hippos etc. and pretended they were biting me. After the meal, after chaperoning the kids while they were playing on the swings in the backyard and helping them get on the right van to go home, I was talking to some of the adults who come to the program. Some I know well, but there are always new ones. A few weeks ago I helped a man in a wheelchair get out of the building and back to his car. He loved motorcycles and we talked about them for quite a while. When we got back to his car he gave me a new baseball cap and thanked me. This time I was talking to a man who I had talked to before, a well-meaning, but easily confused and often cantankerous individual. I was sighing because it was dark and starting to rain and I had an hour’s ride home on Big Red. He told me that, yeah, the rain was bad and that he was sleeping in the woods that night. “Got a tent?” I asked. “Nope,” he replied. “I’ll find a cubbyhole somewhere.” Maybe needless to say, but I felt lucky that night riding home in the rain, knowing I had a warm, dry bed at the end of the trail. It got me thinking about happiness and unhappiness, the sorrows we all go through and it reminded me of the story of the Great Tree of Sorrow.
It’s an old story that I heard years ago. It goes something like this. God had been listening to all the prayers of all the people from around the world and had gotten plum tuckered out listening to them all. Finally, God spoke to everyone at once and said: “What am I going to do with all of you? (Depending on where you live that last word might have sounded different: y’all, youse, yousens). I gave you this beautiful world with all its joys and sorrows and every day you pray to me to take the sorrows and the pains back, that you can’t handle them, or don’t want to. So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to write down on a sheet of paper all the sufferings that you have and meet me in the morning over at that huge oak tree over there. (Over yonder). Everyone agreed.
They worked hard on their list, writing down all the aches and pains, losses, griefs, sufferings and fears they had. The next morning they were all there with their lists. Little children, grannies, folks in wheel chairs, some missing limbs, teachers, butchers, car salesfolks- everybody. Some lists were long and some were short but the shorter ones often bore more tragic, tear stained tales.
God eventually appeared the next morning, as God always does. God said: “Okay folks, go hang your sorrows on that tree. You can leave them there if you want to.” Well the people nearly climbed over each other, eager as they were to get rid of their sorrows. Afterwards they stood back and stared at the tree waiting to see what was going to happen next.
Then God spoke again. “Now, here’s the second part. (It was a good news/bad news kind of thing.) Before sunset today you must pick a sorrow to take away with you when you leave.” The folks went back to the tree and walked around it again reading all the sorrows. There were gasps and tears and moans and groans as they read the sheets of paper.
But as sunset approached people began to grab pieces of paper from the tree and put them in their pockets or pursues or backpacks. Soon the tree was empty again and as the last sunlight scattered so did all of the people back to their homes, carrying their chosen sorrows.
God smiled, in that sad, compassionate way that only God can pull off with a straight face. Why? Because God already new the result. Each person, no matter what horrible things they had written on their list, had chosen to take home their own sufferings.
Ride safely my friends.
“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think you’ve lost time. There is no short-cutting to life. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.”
― Asha Tyson