In my neighborhood there is an empty lot that has two oak trees. Tall, aged and proud. Home to various critters, the place for kids to play football, kickball, swing on the swing, and even play freeze tag. For the past five years in the summer I’ve driven past the overgrown grass and weeds, in the winter I passed by observing the slumbering fauna. Then, about a year and a half ago after a particularly bad storm I noticed one of the trees started to lean a bit.
No longer was it tall, proud and monumental. Instead it had developed a hitch. A flaw that intrigued me. Not enough for me to get out of my car or off my bike to go and inspect it, no instead, I just wanted to observe. Watch, wait and see what would happen. After all, isn’t that what writers do? Observe and report? Not that I really consider myself a writer, I think I’m more of an observationalist. So that is what I did. I observed.
This tree has a twisted trunk, so much so that it looks as if at one time it were actually two trees. The lowest branches were fifteen feet or so off the ground and you could see small dead limbs that had once had a promising future of life. Leaves in the spring and summer were a lush, deep green and in the fall and winter the skeletal features reminded me of the time when I looked at pictures of the actual elephant man. Twisted, broken limbs jutted out of places where they should never have had an opportunity to sprout, let alone grow for more than an inch or two. Instead, there seemed to be some sort of mutant gene inside this tree. A radical cancer of arboistic proportions.
In the past six months, the tree has grown leaves, supported animal life and has slowly sped up its descent to the earth that once supported it. So much so that every day I passed by, it was leaning more and more. As if the earth below could no longer support the weight, the fuel and had lost the energy to try and keep it alive.
This morning I rode by and realized that the slow descent of the high branches had finally reached the ground. Also, the trunk had finally broken about five feet up from the root ball. Inside the tree was hollow. Long ago eaten away by termites, squirrels and various other critters. The tree was truly broken. There was nothing inside to speak of for the countless years it had stood proud, tall and epic on the face of this mudball. While only a ten feet away its brother stood providing shade for its fallen compatriot in foliage life.
Tonight, on my way home, the break of the trunk was almost complete. The upper part of the tree seemed severed by a maniac butchers rusty knife. What was left near the base was jagged and hollow. A good portion of the roots hung in the air like bleeding arteries of a severed torso. The life of the oak has ended. I felt a sense of loss even as I rode by knowing I had never taken the opportunity to visit this particular spot on earth. A loss I couldn’t quite understand.
That is until I got home. That’s when it hit me.
You see, this week, for all you who don’t know, I celebrated another birthday. A day I call +17 and counting. For the first thirty or so years of my life I was certain I would be long gone by now. At age thirty. Now, I’m seventeen years past my self-proclaimed expiration date. Which is fine by me. For the past seventeen years I’ve discovered a plethora of information I’m sure my younger self couldn’t have even comprehended. Which is cool. Why? Because I am a creature who loves to discover new and unique things in life. Which is what has become my daily existence.
The sadness I felt for the fallen tree seemed to be a metaphor for my life, however, as I write this I can’t help but think I may have not felt sad. For you see, if I, at the end of my life am nothing but an empty husk of a human being, used up, worn out and just a shell of my former self… well, I have to consider that a compliment.
Seriously, I want to go into the grave with no energy left. No stone unturned. No knowledge unleared. I want to have lived a life of passion, of knowledge of production. I want to leave this mortal coil knowing that in the midst of all my emotions, my attitudes and my arrogance that people will say “Well, he always knew what to do and when to do it. He suckled the teat of life and left nothing but an empty, sagging, useless bag that once held the waters of life. What he did with that water was to use it to do everything his mind could imagine? And he did.”
I want no regrets for my actions, only regrets for the things I didn’t have the time to do. Like the fallen oak, a tree I believe should have had many more years in its future, I want people to feel a loss. Which is what I truly felt I suppose. A loss of beauty, a loss of emotional connection and a loss of a life giving force that impacted others.
I suppose what I’m saying is, yes, I work hard and yet, when given the opportunity I try to enjoy the gifts life sends my way. Be it people, good cigars or in the rare case… living in the moment. Which is what I seem to be doing when I sit on my porch and watch as my neighbors scurry from one end of the block to the next.
Life is for the living, the thinking, the breathing and the opportunist. Go and live it. Find a passion, find a lover, find a spouse. Live and enjoy the small dash between your birth and death that will eventually be engraved upon your tombstone. History is filled with people we will never know because they were satisfied with being obscure. I’m not one of those. I try to put my name, my stamp, my intellectual influence on everything I do. Why? Because when others in my realm of being are lost, confused or just plain confuddled by an issue, they call me and I fix it. That’s what I’m good at. And when I fix something, they know it and know they can count on me to be there. I’m the fire extinguisher behind the glass. Break the glass and get out of my way. I’ll fix it, I’ll figure it out and I’ll damn sure put my name on it. Why? Because I am here. I am now and I am not going to be forever, just like that fallen oak tree. And like that fallen tree my results, my ideas and my progeny will be.
Have a great week.
As a PostScript I’d like to give thanks to Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet band for entertaining my ears while I wrote this.