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A Sheltering Tree

Blog Post #38

Friendship is a sheltering tree

If you ask a second grader to draw a picture of a tree, the odds are the result will consist of a brown trunk (long, thin, brown rectangle) with green leaves on top (a round splotch of green), and maybe some apples (small red spots)—don’t all trees have apples? I’ve noticed that adults sometimes perpetuate the idea that this is how trees are drawn. It has become a bit traditional, and almost generally accepted, that trees have brown trunks topped by green leaves.

When I was in third grade, we moved to a community that still had many acres of orange and lemon groves. Naturally, we learned about orange trees and smudge pots in school. As part of the lesson, our teacher asked each of us to paint a picture of an orange tree. I was new to the area, and didn’t really know an orange tree from a oak, so I painted a brown trunk with the roundish green blob at the top, and colored the usual red spots orange in the leafy top. I’ll always remember the teacher holding up Julie Wilson’s painting of an orange tree, and being completely surprised and impressed. Her painting had a tree consisting of a large irregularly roundish leafy area that went almost to the ground, with only a tiny bit of trunk showing at the bottom. The leaves were laden with oranges throughout. It was beautiful. (I think she may have included a smudge pot in the picture, too.) Obviously, Julie had looked at and “seen” orange trees as they really were. On our next drive through the north part of town where the orange groves were, I noted how accurate her painting of an orange tree was compared to the cartoonish and generic painting I had made. How different orange trees were shaped from other trees—or, more accurately, from what I had assumed all trees looked like. I was determined to pay better attention in the future, but sadly, that didn’t always happen.

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I began to notice that all trees were not the same, and that, in fact, if you really look at the details, you’ll find an astonishing variety. In addition to an assortment of colors, you’ll discover differences in overall shape—some sprawling with sturdy, gnarled trunks and umbrella-like canopies, others tall, graceful, and straight with willowy, softly undulating ribbons of leaves. Contrasting textures are also obvious–some with mottled or pealing bark, striations and deep grooves, geometric patterns, and contrasting darks and lights. The combination of texture, color and shape create breathtaking and beautifully varied effects.

Although there are many examples of monochromatic color schemes in nature such as may be found in ocean, dusk, dawn, and nighttime scenes, nature also uses a broad palette of complementary colors.

 

Nature is bold. She paints stark, snow-laden mountaintops against brilliant sunset skies, blazing vermilion rock formations arching over a brilliant backdrop of blue, yellow and purple pansies, and red tomatoes against deep green foliage.

Nature doesn’t limit herself to one texture or one shape either. A tree–a Brazilian peppertree, for example, such as line the parkway of my street–has multiple textures and shapes, from the rough and deeply grooved trunk to small, greenish-yellow, oval, pinnate compound leaves, and tiny round pepper seeds that turn from green to red to brown (and, incidentally, burn the lawn with their heat). In addition to a peppertree’s varying color and texture, the trunk weaves its way upward, its branches writhing in a twisting tangle of knotted masses. (Hardly a straight stick of a trunk with a green ball at the top! Although, to be fair, if you look at the bottom of the trio of pictures below, from a distance, the peppertree does appear to fit that description.)

If you were to describe a Brazilian peppertree, an orange tree, and a Quaking Aspen, you would have to give very different descriptions. Still you could describe all as having roots, trunks and leaves.

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As creatures of nature, people are more complex than trees, yet many find themselves characterized as “trunk and leaves,” after all, people all have heads, arms and legs. At a glance, people may appear to be objects: dumbed-down, over-simplified caricatures of what they really are. (She’s pretty. He’s tall. She’s mean. He’s old. She’s a gossip. He’s cocky. She’s shy. He’s self-centered.) How many a tall fellow has been asked if he plays basketball–as if his height is his only defining characteristic?

Quercus_robur Oak

These observations are likely arbitrary, biased, and viewed through a flawed lens. One may choose to believe over simplifications one hears via rumor or gossip, or one hazards at first sight, because it resounds with one’s own preconceived ideas. Such claims may satisfy for the moment, but also may be mostly false. They may appear correct, based on circumstantial evidence, but unfounded when the whole truth is known. At first glance, there are always—always—unknown quantities of information. In most cases, the observer failed to look close enough to see all the colors, all the textures, and all the shapes, to see the combination of these as one uniquely whole “tree.” There’s the possibility the observer didn’t even know what the whole “tree” really looked like, and didn’t bother to find out. Almost certainly, the observer wasn’t perceptive or empathetic enough to have walked the proverbial mile in the others’ shoes. In other words, he or she didn’t really know the tree.

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I have been guilty of seeing people as “trees”—brown trunk, leaves on top. When I was young, it was mostly: she is popular, he is smart, etc. That was all I knew of some people. How sad that is. How sad that I was too shy, too backward, to delve a little deeper, to walk a little closer and really look at the tree, at its roots, its differing shades and nuances of color, of personality, of ideas. I missed a lot because I based so many of my impressions on a glance at a tree that I was too shy or afraid of to know or to understand!white willow

I have been fortunate enough to meet some of those “trees” again later in life, and to “see” them anew, after maturing enough to have genuine interest in them instead of fearing them, and appreciating them instead of weighing their strengths against my weaknesses. How silly I was when I was younger!

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Southern California Orange Grove

I went from seeing thin, rectangular brown trunks topped with green circles (maybe with red or orange spots) to seeing deeply complex root systems, sturdy, varied and profoundly textured trunks, and wide canopies of sheltering, beautiful and intensely colorful leaves. When I inspected and comprehended the true nature of each individual tree, and saw the beauty therein, I wondered how I ever missed the innate wealth of each. I really began to appreciate people as uniquely beautiful, strong and intricate. I began to appreciate each individual soul as the amazing “tree” it is.

sycamore leaf

Social media (i.e. Facebook) has helped me reconnect with people I had forgotten that I once knew. Recently, I reconnected with a girl I knew in elementary school. I never thought she liked me back then. (Brown trunk.) She was stuck-up and popular. (Leaves on top.) She wasn’t interested in being my friend. (Red spots.) All I saw was a generalization of the tree, not the real person. And what I concluded was false.

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One day I saw this girl’s picture on the Facebook post of a mutual friend, she still looked young and beautiful. She had a lovely smile, and looked content. I wondered what weathering had shaped the tree rings of her life. I became interested in her textures and the shades and tints that colored her life. I decided to make a comment, and I truthfully told her how lovely I thought she looked. Next thing I knew, we were corresponding back and forth. She was sweet, kind, and interested. We talked about our folks, our families, and our friends. She was not what I had believed her to be so many years ago. I’m sorry to say I had carried those old ideas in the baggage compartment of my mind for years. I felt ashamed of the petty views I’d had. (Then, I wondered if she had seen me as trunk and leaves before, too. Thankfully, I’ll never know.) But what a waste! I’m happy to report that I have grown into more of a “tree admirer” over the years. I now truly make an effort to see people (and trees)—really see them, and all the magnificent uniqueness and beauty each has within and without.

oak tree.jpg

A lone and unique Oak tree

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”

― William Blake

My First Blog Post EVER!

“To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree

has its voice as well as its feature.”

― Thomas Hardy, “Under the Greenwood Tree”

 My First Blog Post EVER!

“In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.”

― Paulo Coelho, Aleph

End Piece

© May 14, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

 

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“Through A Glass Darkly….”

Blog Post #11: 


It took over a half century for me to understand an obvious truth: other people don’t see me the way I see myself.

When my granddaughter was nursing laryngitis, she commented on how strange her voice sounded. I replied that she hears her own voice differently from others because she hears it resonating from within her head, whereas others hear her voice from without. How similar that is to the way we see ourselves. Others see us differently and from without, while we see ourselves from a very personal place within. 

Not long after the conversation with my granddaughter, I was visiting with an elderly gentleman at church. In the course of conversation, he used words to describe me that I would never think of using to describe myself. His generous appraisal was humbling. I smiled inwardly at the thought, but found it difficult to believe his view of me was correct, and mine was not.

This brings me to another interesting observation: not only do I not see myself the way others see me, but I also don’t see myself the way I really am.



When I walk by a mirror, I am always surprised by the image I see of myself. I never look the way I think I look. Why is that? I’ve seen myself in the mirror at least every morning and every night for over half a century, so why don’t I know what I look like? I think it has to do with my perception of myself from within. 


I create mental models (often subconsciously) of who I think I am that contribute to my impression of myself. For example, I see myself as a happy person. At a very young age, I decided a smile should be my “normal” expression. (Of course, there was the time I was making jam, and burnt the bottom out of a 2-quart plastic pitcher full of granulated sugar when I inadvertently turned on the wrong stove burner. No, I was not smiling when eight cups of sugar poured out the burnt bottom like a glittering white Niagara Falls all over the stove and floor, but this is beside the point.)



There was a reason for the smile decision. I had noticed people who, unprovoked, looked as if they had a thorn in their shoe. Others wore a perpetual scowl, while a few looked as if they’d like to bite someone’s head off. (I am not referring to friends or family–just people I’d sometimes meet.) I wanted to see happy faces, and I wanted others to see happiness in me. I knew that when people greeted me with a smile, it set me at ease and lifted my spirits without speaking a word. (I’m not talking about pasted-on TV smiles—insincere and shallow,—but kind and reassuring smiles.) 


So, I try to maintain a cheerful attitude, and a positive outlook. I believe that I’m a cheerful person, most of the time. Or am I? Do I really appear cheerful to others, or am I fooling myself?

One day, many years ago, my brother said to me, “Cynthia, you are such a complainer.” I was taken aback….completely shaken. A complainer?! Is that how you see me? I began the arduous and painful task of self-analysis.  I noticed that I did complain from time to time. Indeed, was a complainer! That began a struggle to end the complaining that, unfortunately, continues today. Like a prizefighter, I have bouts of success suppressing individual urges to grumble as they bob and weave in and out of everyday situations.


Every now and then, a family member will act as referee when I go down for the count, and every single time it comes as a surprise! Was I complaining again? How can I repeatedly be so blind to my own behavior? I must conclude that to family members I am (sometimes, at least) seen as a whiny-fuss, which doesn’t fit my self-image at all, for I am a cheerful, happy person—truly content.



Another example of this conundrum is the question of introversion versus extroversion.  Surprising to me are friends who are surprised to hear that I am an introvert. The minute I walk into a large gathering, I become a worker bee, busying myself to avoid having to stop and find a place in the hive. If there’s no frantic buzzing to be done, I may find a flower or two whose nectar I already know to be sweet, and comfort myself in their presence. I prefer quiet family gatherings to social calls, I dread and procrastinate making phone calls, and I flee large gatherings in which mingling is expected.



The contradiction: I love being with people. I want to know all about them. I love hearing about their fascinating lives, about what they think, and how they feel. I love to connect with people. However, I prefer being with, knowing about, hearing from, and connecting with people one-on-one. I even prefer to skip the introductory appetizers and salads—the small talk—and cut right into the main dish, where the meaty juiciness and flavor is.

These kinds of incongruities raise disconcerting questions: Is what people see a true representation of what is at my core? And worse: Am I a fake and a fraud?

Fake or Fraud?

Am I a fraud if I profess love for others while preferring the quiet security of being the proverbial fly on the wall, or feeling uncomfortable in the wake of large social events? Am I a fake if my mental model is happiness and good cheer, but sometimes exhibit whiney-fuss tendencies?  
  
I believe I am cheerful, but there are those who perceive me as a complainer. I consider myself an introvert and somewhat clumsy at social interaction, and there are those who see me as extroverted. Examples of these kinds of paradoxes are many and varied. I would venture to guess that if I made an illustration of how I see myself and a group of family and friends collectively made an illustration of how I am seen, the results would be two entirely different pictures!*



“For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) I have pondered this scriptural passage, and have discussed its layers of meaning and application with family members and friends. It appears in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians at the end of a description of charity—that quality of character, that pure love—that Christ embodied and exemplified, and that is at the pinnacle of His teachings, for without it, He tells us, we are nothing.  

Christ by Karen C. Kindrick Cox

Perhaps I am a fake and a fraud, but I don’t think so. I think it is a matter of perception, which is often flawed. I think there is some kind of middle ground on which I’m standing—the middle ground of Intent and Faith. If I stand there, then I must allow that others stand there, as well, even if I can’t see them with my limited vision.


We are such harsh judges of ourselves. I believe it is best to look for the good in others, and to recognize the good in oneself, to allow for imperfections, and to choose to believe that goodness will prevail. Seeing goodness breeds happiness and contentment. It is not blindness or falsehood. It is a choice about how to see.


Now we see through a glass, darkly.” I cannot now clearly see what I am, or how others perceive me. I cannot clearly see the results of my efforts, or my influence for good or bad. I cannot clearly see my true relationship with others.

But “then, we will see face to face.” “Then,” to me, refers to when I return Home to God who gave me life. Then, shadows of misunderstanding will disperse. I will see without clouded glass, without blurry, dark and tainted perceptions. I will see clearly, distinctly and thoroughly. I will see and understand all the thinking and feelings (my own, and those of others) that have influenced my choices and judgments—both good and bad. All the facades, fears and foibles that have prevented me from understanding the truth as it really is will dissipate. I will see truth in its glory, and will understand and know without falseness that blinds, sharpness that mars, or vague shadows and doubts. Now, I only know tiny particles of all the truth around me because of the limitations imposed by my experiences, biases and environment, by traditions and narrow histories, by physicality and mortality.

But “then, I shall know even as I am also known.” Then, I will understand.

Then, what I am is what you will see, and what I see is what is true in you.



I look forward to that perfect day.


© Copyright July 1, 2014

*After I wrote the first draft of this post, I discovered a wonderful little video (only 3 minutes long) about this very thing. Please click this link to watch the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video.