It is a curious thing. As I walk along the Bendigo Creek Trail I become fixated on the dead trees. They are not clumped together, like monuments in a cemetery, but interspersed among the living. Their gnarled skeletons are framed by a backdrop of green. An unexpected thought presents itself, ‘What if dead trees could talk?’
In The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis writes about ‘talking trees’ but their silence is attributed to sleep, not death. Remember the story of Prince Caspian and Lucy’s appeal to the trees.
Lucy’s eyes began to grow accustomed to the light, and she saw the trees that were nearest her more distinctly. A great longing for the old days when the trees could talk in Narnia came over her. She knew exactly how each of these trees would talk if only she could wake them…
“Oh Trees, Trees, Trees,” said Lucy (though she had not been intending to speak at all). “Oh Trees, wake, wake, wake.”
My impulse is to get rid of the dead trees, to clear out the fallen branches, to make way for a new planting. I’m all for renewal: new young trees, new life, new growth, new possibilities, and new inspiration.
Perhaps I’m just annoyed that their presence provokes thoughts of death, a subject that has consumed me since Adam took his life in 2011.
If dead trees could talk, what might they be saying?
- Expect adversity
Whether young saplings or mature specimens, trees want to live and will do whatever is necessary to survive. Trees are often called upon to endure extremes in climatic conditions. The visible scars on dead trees speak of periods of stress and hardship. Eucalyptus trees, common throughout Australia, are tall, beautiful specimens. Although they are drought tolerant, they can react to insufficient water by dropping branches.
Trees are unable to flee adversity. That’s the thing about trees, they can’t run away. They just have to stand there and take it. This reflects our situation. Similarly, we inevitably encounter difficult circumstances, situations that test our staying power, real life events that box us in. Although retreat appears an option, there is no way out. A positive response is to exhibit patient endurance, to persevere, to be strong, and to show resilience.
It is tragic that people who suicide surrender to adversity. They don’t have the inner reserves or the outward optimism to keep on. Adversity is not something to ignore. ‘Adversity can be our greatest motivation…or our deadliest means of discouragement.’ When a person chooses to end their life the distress wins out and they bow to defeat. C. S. Lewis offers a timely word of hope and encouragement. He says,
‘Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.’
- It will shape your identity…
Trees have grandeur. They stand tall, erect, some would even suggest ‘majestic,’ with thickened trunks and forked branches. But this isn’t true of all trees. Trees that have endured a bush fire have blackened trunks. Trees exposed to strong prevailing winds lean to one side. Trees denied water appear spindly. Trees struck by lightning shatter on impact.
Trees that have known adversity are unable to conceal the consequences. They stand for truth. They tell it like it is. They are a testimony to every challenge faced, every hardship endured.
We are not like that. We try to hide our weaknesses and shortcomings. We feel uncomfortable with failure and are embarrassed by our brokenness. We’re about image building, looking good, exuding confidence, appearing unstoppable.
Ann Voskamp in her recent book The Broken Way offers a profound insight. She says,
“Maybe our hearts are made to be broken. Maybe the deepest wounds birth deepest wisdom.”
It takes a major shift in our thinking to see brokenness as a gift. I have a sense that our son Adam saw his brokenness beyond repair.
- and define your future
There are many uses for dead trees. Dead trees are an important source of wildlife habitat. Dead trees can be cut up into manageable lengths and used for fuel. Dead trees can be fed into a wood chipper to produce organic mulch.
Dead trees can also be crafted into a thing of beauty: a coffee table, a toy train, salt and pepper shakers, a dining chair. Each object reflects the versatility of wood. We often admire the wooden bowl Adam made when he was at secondary school.
C. S. Lewis died on November 22nd, 1963: the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Lewis was considered one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. Despite his varied and extensive accomplishments, he attracted criticism. He was challenged about his domestic arrangements leading to a rift with his closest friends. He was attacked by academia for his populist writings, forfeiting the chance of promotion to higher office.
Lewis knew pain and hardship. He watched his brother, Warnie, surrender to drink. He saw his wife, Joy, lose her battle with cancer. Many believed his influence would wane after his death. But over 50 years have passed and his volume of work remains relevant. Most of his books are still in print and have sold around 200 million copies in more than thirty languages. His Narnia books, now made into films, break box-office records. His popularity and influence are greater than ever.