There was an old tree in front of my home back when I lived in my old home town. The tree was not the prettiest on the block. It was certainly the oldest. I would often regard this tree for several reasons because first and foremost, no matter what happened to the landscapes around it, the tree never fell.
We had a few big storms too. Other trees fell and toppled over but not the old tree. No, regardless to its age and regardless to its half, lifeless appearance, the old tree never fell over.
Others that lived on the block would bet the tree would fall when we heard big storms were on the way. But no. The tree never fell.
There was a famous hurricane that hit the Northeast, known as Hurricane Sandy. The old tree lost a few limbs but nothing more. Other trees that were younger, livelier, bigger and supposedly stronger fell over. But the old tree stood. The old tree never moved an inch.
Each day when I came outside from my home, I stood on the front porch of my house. And I looked at this old tree. The other neighbors wanted to cut him down because he was less than pretty. And please, for the moment, forgive the gendering of the tree but this is how I saw him.
I remember people literally standing in front of the tree, arguing with the town to cut it down; however, the town had regulations about trees like him. Nobody wanted to pay for the tree to be removed.
But wait; before I go forward, let me describe my street and my town so perhaps you can have a better picture and a deeper understanding. My block was a small, quiet, block in a small suburban town in Long Island.
I grew up in this town. I moved away for a very long time but I came back when I was older.
I came back because I needed something familiar. I came back because this made sense. I needed a place where I could sink in and feel comfortable.
I knew the streets here and they knew me as well. I knew the stores and the delis.
This is where I was as a kid, hoofing it from one side of my town to the other. This is where I lived as a little boy with nearby parks and went sleigh riding in little hills, which seemed so big to me back then. This is also where I had some of my most unfortunate events too, but good or bad, either way, this was my home.
Our streets were basic. We had sidewalks. We had modest homes. We had quiet streets and we had busier streets. In fact, my childhood home was on a main street.I grew up on Merrick Avenue, which looked much different when I was a kid. We moved there in 1975. I was only three years old.
As a teen, I would often climb out my window that led out to the roof of my garage. The style was a small cape home, with two doghouse features on the front of my roof, which faced Merrick Avenue. I would climb out the side window and then up to the top of my roof.
I’d sit there, late at night, and I would look out at the world. I would wonder if I would ever outlast myself or surpass my ideas that kept me limited to a certain point of view. I wondered how people lived and how they had the ability to keep going when life hit them hard.
I moved away when I was 19 and I came back when I was 33. The town had changed a lot. Some of the old stores were no longer there. The old places that remained had their face lifts and updated improvements. But the park was still there. The library was still there. The high school, the junior high, the elementary schools were all there too.
As I saw it, moving home was the same as a grown man going back to his family home to visit his elderly parents after falling upon hard times. To me, this was like sitting at my old dining room table so Mom can come in and bring a bowl of soup to warm my spirits. But Mom was gone and so was my childhood home.
I moved to my hometown after a downfall. I went back to the normal everyday streets of middle-income lifestyles and submerged myself into the comfort of a place that knew all about me and my painful little secrets
I found a small home and moved in. I created a new life for myself. I recreated me and my family but there was always the torment of old ideas. There were the struggles I faced from divorce and the unevenness that comes with the unfair representation of parenting after divorce. This hurt me.
I had tough times and I had good times. Each day, no matter what the weather would be like; whether it was warm or cold, rain, snow, or shine —the old tree was always right across from me. He never fell, never gave into opinion, never bothered with what other people thought or said. He never cared about the other trees that were younger and prettier and neither celebrated nor wept when other trees fell or when some of the long-time homeowners moved away. The tree just stood
My home was directly across the street from this tree. I had a little walkway that led from the sidewalk, up to my stoop, which led to my front door. I lived in a humble house, which was not very big. However, my home was big enough to warm me when I was cold and cover me when the weather was poor.
There were houses to the left and right of mine. There were neighbors that I liked and others that I stayed away from.
We had block parties on our block. We had the typical gossip that comes with the community. And across from me was a somewhat unkempt lawn in front of a poorly kept house, which had a crackled walkway that led to the sidewalk, which bordered with a strip of lawn that bordered between the sidewalk and the street.
This is where the old tree stood. Each morning, I came out to find this tree, still standing regardless to what others thought or said.
I looked at this tree each day and admired its ability to be alive and imperfect, yet still, I admired the tree’s ability to perfectly endure everything that goes on around it.
I would see this tree and think about my life. I yell too much. I yell at the television sometimes. I’ve yelled at the news. I yelled at some of my neighbors. I’ve yelled at people on the subway and people at work (God knows I’ve yelled at work.)
I watched a mixed martial arts event on television the other day and I yelled at the fighters (as if they could hear me.) I yelled for a few after my fighter lost the bout, which I already knew about because the fight was old, but still, I yelled.
And guess what. I get yelled at too. I’ve been yelled at many times. I’ve been told hurtful things. I’ve had my heart broken more times than I can count. I’ve seen good days and bad days. I have withstood unfortunate times and I have lived through personal wars that I thought would end me for certain.
The old tree stood there, no matter what people said or thought. I admired the tree for this. In fact, I want to be more like this.
People wanted the tree to fall. They wanted the town to cut him down. But the tree did not bicker back and forth or bother with opinion. Instead, no matter how hard the wind blew, the tree stood and remained without regard for anyone else.
There are times when life can be all too hurtful. There are times when our choices compile and our mistakes lead to consequences. There are times when life is painful. And pain hurts!
There are times when we simply just want to run away. We want to get out. We want to escape ourselves or maybe even disappear.
There are times when outside forces impose themselves. There are times when we just can’t seem to catch a break. And, there are times when bad luck is the only luck we have.
There are times when people do or say hurtful things. There are times when we are literally so heartbroken that we feel like, “Great God, almighty, I swear I’m going to die!”
I used to live across from the old tree that stood there as a reminder of what it means to heroically endure. The tree would remain no matter what other people said or did.
The tree taught me that I do not have to succumb to outside opinion. It doesn’t matter what others say or think or if they call me ugly or anything like that. Unless someone physically cuts me down, no one can ever stop me from standing on my own two feet. And so long as I can breathe; I can always find my ability to improve.
I just have to take care of my roots. That’s all.
See, the other trees on my street were younger and stronger and appeared to be healthier. But none of them had strength in their roots, which is why they fell over.
Anyone could say what they wanted about the old tree and how he looked but the old tree knew the secret of endurance, which is to take care of your roots, stand tall and remain by any means necessary.
There are times when it hurts to stand. And, there are times when it seems like everyone is against us. I get that.
There are times when we wish the lights would just go out and that would be it.
And, there are times when we look around and wonder why we couldn’t just be someone else or somewhere else. We look at our life and wish we could have done things differently. We wonder what we could have been if we only made a few small decisions back when we needed to.
Whatever could have happened did happen.
I think of the tree. I think of my love for him and the way that tree encouraged me to keep going even when I thought I couldn’t.
I moved away a few years back.
The old home that was across from my house sold too. Someone came along and bought it. They updated everything. Unfortunately, they cut down the old tree.
I say that’s okay though.
I get it.
This is life.
People, places, and things come along to teach us lessons. The old tree taught me that the most important lesson of all, which is that I am always the square root to my own equation. My life is my responsibility; it all starts and ends with me.
Times will hit me hard. So it is best that I care for my roots and myself —this way, no matter what hits me, nothing can ever knock me down.
I learned, don’t give in. Don’t celebrate or weep at the sight of another’s demise. Just stand tall no matter what happens because this is what it means to endure.