This song has been specially selected for you to listen to as you read this article. Press play.
As I walked into the rain, I pulled up my hood and shoved my hands in my pockets, reaching for my lighter. The street was a canvas of wet pavement reflecting the fluorescent moon and illuminated streetlights. My breath danced away in the raindrops, my socks began to soak in fresh rainwater. It was breathtakingly beautiful on my street at this hour, and it took all of fifteen minutes to embrace every detail of my surroundings. The slow trickling vein of rainwater running into the gutter, the puddles reflecting the stars like beachside tide pools, the stark silence of the night that created an invisible energy that washed over my senses, the pitter-patter of rain on the wild vegetation that surrounded me.
I sat on the curb, admiring the inconspicuous night life around me, and I lit a cigarette. The ember played in the darkness like a torch against a cave, flicking, and fighting the rain as it burned ever so slowly towards my bitter-cold finger. With a painful pull, the toxic smoke sent the nicotine though my lungs to the tips of my fingers and toes. My brain numbed, and it felt like my head began to swell with cotton balls, before waves of repose crashed over me again and again. When my mind stabilized itself and my vision cleared, I dragged again. Then I saw something overbearing and magnificent before me.
A tree standing one hundred feet above my head peered down with old, wise eyes. Shock, confusion; I stared in awe. This tree was a magnificent symbol of natural power on the nighttime skyline, a striking image of epic proportion that overpowered all surroundings. It was captivating, putting me in a trance as I ignored the occasional raindrop invading my eye. I admired this superb statue of life, and I was provoked with a poetic sense of humbleness and self awareness of my own size. But I couldn’t help to wonder, “Since when has tree been here?”
I have lived in the same neighborhood, on the same street, in the same house for a decade and this was the first time I had ever encountered this towering beauty. I passed this tree at least three times every day, yet it felt like this was the first time I had ever encountered its spell. I was confused how this enormous tree with all its beauty, could have avoided my gaze, because it ruled over the street like a swaying skyscraper. Now that I had seen it, it completely captured my attention and became the only thing I could see (that my have been the nicotine though). Then I realized, maybe I had in fact seen this tree before, but this was the first time I was acknowledging its wonder and appreciating it as an overpowering monument of life.
Everyday I passed it by, determined for a destination in my future. School, work, home was the treadmill-like routine everyday as I raced from place to place, without stopping to see what’s in my peripherals. I wondered what other fantastic natural beauties I had missed because my daily events seemed so dire and important. We all run from our homes to our work with our heads down, addicted to our daily routine, and what is so toxic about this process is that it has become “natural.” It’s tragic. Today we can’t afford to look out the window of life, there is no time for daydreaming, because every second we spend appreciating our surroundings and enjoying the present, someone else is taking advantage of our slacking. The extreme competition of our society has undermined was is really important: taking time to appreciate something larger than ourselves.
Without this our lives are so limited, its not fair to ourselves that we don’t think we can take the time to recognize such beauty. Because life is defined by our reactions to daily experiences, relationships, and encounters; in the end when we look back and sigh, we realize the only person we cheated was ourselves. By ignoring this tree, not to mention all the thousands of other glorious natural monuments and details I have overlooked, I was limiting the amount of wonderful experiences that could bring color and clarity to my life.
I was wet and ashamed, as the tree stared down at me with a condescending gaze. I thought my life and my routine was so important, that I didn’t have the time or patience to acknowledge and respect this monument. This tree has been here for generations before me, seen houses and families come and go, humans grow, live, and die. I could learn more from what this tree has observed, than I will in all the time I spend at school. I silently apologized to the tree for my foolish big headedness.
Raindrops brought down morsels of forgiveness from its leaves, sending me the message that I had learned, and I could teach. This tree called on me to send its message to all others who lived without living. Those who were addicted to the fast paced rush of our luxurious, consumer lifestyle. I had an obligation to bring to them the beauty of my epiphany, so they could have a similar experience with nature. If I could plant the seed, the idea, that slowing down to appreciate the nature and surroundings that inhabit them, then I would be doing my job as a gracious human being. This knowledge was too big for just myself, we all needed to know this. The rain had long ago put out my cigarette, but I was lost searching for enlightenment in the branches above me. I felt so small under its motherly embrace.
“What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?”
–E. M. Forster