Monday, December 26, 2011

O if we but knew what we do / When we delve and hew

Below is a dream and interpretation I had January 2011

I was at Gardner-Webb University where I recently graduated and, at the time of this dream, worked and lived, but the scenery was my elementary school in Friendship, Maine. I walked to the back of the small-town school and saw machines at work cutting down trees.

I was aghast. I went to the other side of the playground where I saw a lady preparing a chainsaw to cut down a tree whose width spoke of its age, but whose height invited a good climb or friendly shade on a hot summer's day. I screamed at the lady, "You have no heart!"

Two other ladies were standing near me, guarding the area. The elder was Lois Lash, my third-grade teacher and my church's choir director from when I was kid until the past year or so. The younger was her daughter, Carol Ehle, the church's pianist for as long as I can remember. She is also mother to a neighborhood boy my age with whom I went to school and participated in band and academic events. They looked at me with such surprise, wondering how such terrible words could come from the mouth of a man who was once a young angel of the church, a young man with whom they worked many hours for the church's music.

They were disgusted with me and so I explained to them how wonderful the trees are, for aesthetics, for shade, for the homes of animals, and for the very air we breathe. Despite my reasoning, they stood as still in their ways as the sentries of the Queen's Guard in England. Their foundation was firm and they faltered and wavered not.

So I watched the austere, heartless woman cut down the tree with her chainsaw. In the heaviness of the moment, a crowd gathered. I became anxious, claustrophobic. I was being pressed against a pole of a swing-set. I started to push myself from the pole when two men grabbed me and carried me away.

Scared out of my mind, the men dropped me off at the basketball court, one of the boundaries of our recesses when in elementary school. They wanted me to leave, to stop causing trouble. Before I could interact with them anymore, I woke up to my phone vibrating on the windowsill above my head.

Trees are sacred symbols. They aid us in worship. They provide us shelter and furniture. I look to them and I see us in their seasonal phases of life and death, their ubiquity, their diversity. It is hard for me to see them cut down, although I understand why we cut them. Still, the thought of cutting down a tree before its time gives me pause. In the words of G. M. Hopkins, "O if we but knew what we do / When we delve or hew -- / Hack and rack the growing green!" ("Binsey Poplars")

Considering my dream, I first thought of them as symbols of justice, diverse, strong, and good for life. I was watching a woman destroy something for which I stood, a long-standing tree of my faith. Not only was the tree wide with age, but also at a place marking bookends of my life. The scenery was my elementary school, a place I first began to learn about ecojustice, although I understood the area as my current home, a place where my love for the earth was re-inspired.

In one of my less tactful moments, I told her she had no heart for injustices hurt people. I could not believe she would cut down such an obviously wonderful truth. At least, the truth is so obvious to me. Two pillars of the faith community from which I grew stood as still as trees not seeing what I thought was obvious.

With the injustice committed, with the tree of my affection gone, I felt alone in the masses. People from my past, present, and future are all around me, yet I do not feel safe because I think differently, appreciate different things. I am growing and changing like the trees. Will I be cut down, too? Will my life be cut short, because the acorn has fallen a little too far from the tree?

Anxious, claustrophobic, I felt I would die if I did not push against the grain of the crowd coming in on me. In my dream, my life was cut off, in a sense. I was cut off, exiled from the people by two strong men. The anima and the animus have ousted me, one ignoring me and the other removing me. I am rejected and I awake, thrust away from the subconscious mingling of past, present, and future, and forced once again into the conscious present, left on the margins of recess.

The tree was not simply a justice for which I stand. The tree stood for still more than just the people I know who are hurt and oppressed by the injustices of felling such trees, left not to be themselves, but a haunting visage of who they could be in a just society. The tree was also me, falling when he cannot stand to see others fall, falling with them and going with them to the fire. The tree was me, dealing with the potential end of my formal education, watching others and wondering if I can join in. The tree was me dealing with the rejection of women and men as I apply for jobs.

The tree is me and the tree is you, co-inheritors of the sins of others. Whether we wield the chainsaw, yell slurs, stand guard, or watch, we reap what we sew and what others sew, be it a cut tree, the evil deeds of capitalism, or the hodgepodge donations of surplus. Like a forest, we are all in this life and on this earth together. We might fall when we sin and we might fall when others sin, but one day we will fall.

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