This frail and disfigured little tree stands just outside our dining room window. We call it our Survivor Tree.
It’s not much to look at. The oddly curved branch once was the trunk, much longer and rising straight and strong toward the sky. But when a severe winter storm struck a few years ago it nearly collapsed under ice that entombed its branches. Ice can increase the weight of a tree’s branches by as much as 30 times; this tree bent all the way over until some of its branches touched the ground. A few branches were indeed lost, broken off under the icy weight.
I thought it would stand back up when I knocked the ice off of the remaining limbs just as the other shrubs and trees in the yard had done. It didn’t. Instead, it remained stooped and defeated. “It’s done,” I was told. “You need to get rid of it and maybe plant something else in its place.”
But I refused to cut it down. “Let’s just give it a few weeks and see what happens in spring.” I pruned back the most damaged branches and waited.
Sure enough, as the weather turned warm again small green shoots began to appear on the upper side of the bent trunk. The little tree had survived the ice storm. In time the shoots became tiny new branches that sprouted leaves. You could almost hear them crying out, “there’s still life here!”
It’s winter again now and our Survivor Tree is bare. But in a few weeks those signs of life, symbols of being a survivor, will start to appear again. Something that’s not much to look at now will transform into a poetic image that “looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray,” to borrow a line from Joyce Kilmer.
There’s a lesson to be learned here, of course.
Don’t be in a hurry to write off something, or someone, bent or broken by life’s winter storms. As long as there is life, there is hope. Hope for regeneration, for rebirth, for not just surviving but even thriving again.