My nose is cold, but every other part of my body is hot and sweaty. Morning runs in the winter-touched, Midwestern countryside will do that to you. With hands on my hips, I turn around and look back at my grandmother’s property. An apple orchard stands at attention on my right and on my left, creating a passageway of arching limbs. These trees were the guardians of my childhood. I played among them, hide behind them, and once, in a fit of teenage romanticism, longed to get married under them. They were already old when I was young, planted by turn of the century hands. Their roots have had a hundred years to expand and grow and thrive, embraced by the rich Ohio soil. And steadily anchored, their limbs, weathered and withered, reach out to one another and to the sky, touched by a century’s worth of wind and rain and sun. Sometimes, the touch was hash, and the grass between the two rows became a no man’s land of branches and bark.
In spite of such losses, they still stand, their branches stretching out before them, towards each other and to the sky. Receptive of whatever the elements will give them next. Yes, they lost branches and bark, and will most likely lose them again. But, they have roots, made strong by the years and the soil that nourishes them.
Twenty-nine is young, at least, that is what my older friends tell me. Yet twenty-nine doesn’t feel young to me. I’ve lived enough of life to know loss—the loss of a parent, of a self, of a significant other, of a much coveted career, of a best friend. And like a harsh wind tearing away a tree branch, the loss strips you, exposing you to the elements in new, unforeseen ways. There is pain and fear in that experience, but there is also power. For the exposed place becomes a surface of possibility. If your roots are deep and the soil you place yourself in is rich, new bark will grow, and your branches will once more reach out to others and to the world.
I do not feel old because I have suffered loss, I feel old because I have seen the other side of loss. That in its wake, come new possibilities and new chances to love. Loss levels, but after all is stripped away, you have the choice to create again. Perhaps that is my hope for you and for me in the New Year: that we become more like these trees, quietly standing to my left and to my right. Rooted in who we are so that we can be open to what we will become.