The Healing TreeArts
The Healing Tree was dying. I was trying to write a letter to Robbie, but all I could think about was dying. Outside, a hard rain beat against the window. Dying weather. The Healing Tree had been a symbol for what little hope I’d had. If those tiny roots could nourish that miniature tree, then perhaps someday my broken roots would sustain me. Now, The Healing Tree was dying, and it felt like I was too.
I wadded up my latest attempt at a letter and tossed it in the direction of the wastebasket. I wished that Maggie would stop by for a visit. She’d been admitted again, but even that didn’t stop her from making her poetry rounds. In a few days, I was being transferred from the inpatient unit to the rehab hospital, and I was terrified. I felt like a baby bird about to be pushed out of the nest, even though she had a broken wing. I needed a Maggie-gram.
Whenever I got depressed, Maggie would tell me to write a poem about it. It’s therapeutic, she would say. A poem is a dance with your soul, in which you let your soul take the lead. Maggie was big on soul stuff. I just wondered how you could dance with your soul when your legs didn’t work.
What the heck, I finally thought. The letter to Robbie’s not materializing. Why not scribble out a poem. I could barely see the parking lot through the rain, and noticed that The Healing Tree had lost another leaf. Too bad Edgar Allen Poe was dead. Now he could have written a poem to capture the spirit of this cold room.
Poe didn’t show up, so I was on my own. I scribbled down a few words, scratched them out, then scribbled a few more. Don’t think too much. I could almost hear Maggie’s voice. Just watch your hand move the pen and let yourself be surprised by what it writes. Only later, after I’d seen some of the many drafts that Maggie’s “simple” poems went through before they were ready for their intended audience of one special patient, did I appreciate how much painstaking work she’d put into watching her own hand move a pen. I scribbled a few more lines, then again scratched them out.
It’s okay. Feel what you feel and write about that. Again, Maggie’s voice from nowhere. I watched the rain, falling cold and hard on the outside of the window, and The Healing Tree, dying on the inside. Then I watched my hand start to move the pen across the page:
And the First Shall Become Last
You never forget the first time –
That honeydew morning of spring aborning,
When God takes you by the hand and
Shows you the splendor of the Garden.
You never expect the last time –
The basaltine darkness of a dying winter night
When God, being busy elsewhere,
Forgets to wake you up.
I read it over once, then the tears started. Tears for Mark, tears for Robbie, tears for Maggie, tears for the broken lady. My life was spiraling downward, out of control, circling the drain. I wanted to die so I could be with my husband, I needed to live so I could be with my son. And God was busy elsewhere.
“That’s a beautiful poem.” Maggie – the real flesh-and-blood Maggie – stood behind my wheelchair, and was gently rubbing my shoulders as she read the poem sitting in my lap.
“It’s not beautiful,” I said through my tears. “It’s ugly. And I meant it to be ugly.”
“It’s authentic. And that makes it beautiful. I’m sure that whatever God is doing, even if he’s busy elsewhere, he’ll hear this. God’s always listening, you know, and he knows that sometimes poems are cries for help.” Maggie went into the bathroom and came out with a wet face cloth. She wiped away the tear tracks, then put some lotion on my parched lips. “We’ve got company coming, so we need to make you presentable.”
“Company? Who’s coming?”
“Jerry Landerall. He’s the hospital groundskeeper. He’s going to take a look at The Healing Tree. I’m afraid this little tree can’t go to rehab with you next week. She needs some rehab of her own.”
There was a knock on the door.
“Come on in, Jerry,” Maggie chirped, as though it was her room, and not mine, into which she was inviting this man.
Jerry was tall, like Mark, with sandy hair and a bushy mustache. His handshake conveyed the rough gentleness of a man who’d planted many flowers. We chatted for a moment, then he turned his attention to The Healing Tree.
“Can you do it?” Maggie looked from The Healing Tree to Jerry and back again, bouncing on her toes the while. With her hospital gown trailing almost to the ground, she reminded me of one of those happy ghosts that haunt department store candy aisles in the weeks before Halloween.
Jerry stooped to one knee and inspected The Healing Tree, palpating each leaf, then gently pressing a finger into the soil. At length, he rose and stuffed his hands into his pockets. He addressed his answer to Maggie’s question directly to me. “We’ll put her in intensive care for a while – put her in a bigger pot and let her roots gain strength. At least six months, maybe more. Then we’ll plant her in the Healing Garden, out in the east courtyard. There’s a place been left for a tree, and I been waiting for just the right one.” He angled his head toward The Healing Tree. “She just might be the one.”
“Can a bonsai tree really go back to being a real tree?” Maggie looked from the tree to Jerry, then to me. He again addressed his response to me. “Hard telling. It’s gonna take some special care. But a tree’s like a person, you know. Never beyond helping and never beyond hoping. And never beyond caring. No guarantees, of course, but I do believe she’ll do just fine out there in the garden.”
Jerry took The Healing Tree with him to the intensive care unit for sick trees. Maggie went to deliver a poem to a newly-diagnosed cancer patient. It was still raining outside, more heavily than before. The heater clicked on, and the breeze from the vent blew one last little sycamore tree leaf onto the floor. “What’s the point,” I asked of no one in particular. “God’s busy elsewhere.”
- The Healing Tree
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
- Chapter 13
- Chapter 14
- Chapter 15
- Chapter 16
- Chapter 17
- Chapter 18
- Chapter 19
- Chapter 20
- Chapter 21
- Chapter 22
- Chapter 23
- Chapter 24
- Chapter 25
- Chapter 26
- Chapter 27
- Chapter 28
- Questions for discussion
- About the Author