When we look around us and reflect a little, we can find meaning in the simplest of things, like hot air balloons or even scraggly trees.
Nearly three years ago we planted an ash tree in our backyard. From the start, it did not look robust and at my father’s urging, we put three stakes around it (with ropes around the trunk, of course) to stabilize it and ensure it literally started in the right direction.
A few weeks after planting it, it looked pretty scraggly. Some of its leaves seemed on the verge of wilting. To avoid what we thought might be its quick demise, we started supplementing the sprinkler water it soaked up with some hose water once a week, doing it religiously until it went dormant in the fall.
As I looked at that tree late the next winter, I had my doubts that its leaves would start to show themselves because its small buds seemed harder than they should be with no signs of a future leaves breaking through.
“What a waste,” I thought to myself. “This tree isn’t going to make it through its first winter.”
My faith in this tree continued to decrease as all the other trees in our yard and neighborhood began to show their new greenery. When, the leaves of our neighbors’ ash tree (different variety, however) started to show, I about gave up. What I didn’t know was that this tree is literally a late bloomer. It was the last to show its leaves, but when it did, it looked a lot healthier than the year before. Needless to say, I was pleased.
This week my father said it was time to remove those stakes. He came one day while I was at school and did so. As I looked at the tree without its stakes, I couldn’t help but reflect on the tree’s life and think of two metaphors the tree represents.
I thought of the removal of the stakes as a signal that the tree has now grown up enough for it to stand on its own, which I compared to a child who has reached a point where he or she is able to be independent of a mentor or security blanket that has been at his or her side for so long, like being potty trained, leaving the training wheels behind once balance is mastered on a bike, or leaving home for college. Our life is a series of events in which our “stakes are removed” and we are left on our own to make our own decisions, doing our best to remember and apply what our mentor or mentors have taught us.
In addition to its stakes being removed, I also could not help but compare the tree’s late-blooming tendencies to having patience with ourselves. Some of us are late bloomers, and that is perfectly OK. On this vein, I think of one of my favorite authors, James Michener, well known for his epic historical fiction masterpieces such as Hawaii, Alaska and Chesapeake. He did not publish a novel until the age of 40, the very age I will turn this year.
I think of high school and college friends who knew what they wanted to do with their lives from an early age, went for it and are now highly successful in their respective careers. I, on the other hand, have wandered a little and have taken longer to find my niche, but I’ve found it now. I have a few regrets (who doesn’t), but I will continue to move forward, brimming with hope for a better tomorrow while firmly rooted in the present.
I encourage you to celebrate the instances in life when your “stakes are removed” and have patience with yourself when those around you seem to be “blooming earlier.” Your good times will come and they will be worth the wait.