The Strength of a Sapling


Captain’s Blog: Stardate 52519.3

Many years ago, a young boy brought home a tiny maple sapling. It was a gift from his third grade teacher. Brimming with excitement, he was thrilled to have found the solution to his Mom’s sadness. Just a few short months before, an amazing and long-lived elm tree, placed squarely in this family’s front lawn, had fallen victim to Dutch Elm Disease, a sickness that worked it’s way through most of the elm trees in their town. The boy’s mother and father were devastated to lose, not only the beautiful tree, but the cool shade it brought to the entire house.

With a quick step, he arrived home and shared the wonderful news that soon, there would be a new great tree in the front yard. Problem solved.

As she looked at this struggling sapling, the boy’s mother grew more disappointed instead of less. How could she plant this tree, more like a cutting or a twig, in the front lawn of all places? This silly, weak, wisp of a thing might never grow. It would just whither away in view of the entire neighborhood, and when it died, she would have to console her son while the neighbors all watched. Her answer was no.

The boy was devastated. Even if he understood (or, at least accepted) why his parents didn’t want to plant the tree in the front yard, the tree still had to go somewhere. “It’s probably just going to die” was not a good enough reason not to plant it.

“What about in the backyard?” Well, his father had worked so hard to tailor and trim the backyard and its gardens just the way he wanted so there wasn’t really “any place” for a new tree. His answer was no.

“I have to plant it somewhere,” said the boy. 

The backyard ended at a small, wooden fence that split the south wall of the garage. Behind it, there was a small patch of land that had no real function or purpose. It was away from the alley by a bit, had some weeds and crab grass popping up here and there, but was otherwise a pretty useless spot. “You can plant it here,” his parents said.

So, the boy and his parents followed the instructions sent home by his third grade teacher, and planted the small, tender sapling into the hard, barren patch of earth that was out of view to the neighbors, the house, and virtually everyone else. He would come by and check on the tree all summer when he went out to play. 

Despite all expectations to the contrary, the tree survived. By the time the boy moved away to college, the tree was as tall or taller than the garage. Now it was his mother and father who visited the tree, reminded every day of their son.

As his life progressed, their son moved further and the tree grew larger. It grew so tall, in fact, that its branches started to get tangled into the power cables. One day, the boy’s mother came home to find workmen from Commonwealth Edison aggressively chopping away at the maple’s branches. Enraged, she shouted at them and made it very clear every year that followed that they were not to harm this beautiful tree. Her son planted it there, and it is perfect and special. 

Despite her best efforts, ComEd has continued to break, trim, and damage branches of this tree throughout the years. It may not live in the perfect spot. Strangers may continue to limit where it spreads its branches. It may not be seen by many people. Nevertheless, this tree stands tall, strong, and beautiful.

* * *

Most of the time when I go home to visit my folks, it’s fall, winter, or early spring. I don’t often get to see my tree with lush, green leaves. However, I recently took a trip home to see my family and caught this lovely picture of My Maple and it was beautiful and breathtaking. 

Today is the [redacted] anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah, and I am reflecting on where I am today. I live in Los Angeles, which I have done for only two months. I am juggling three jobs. I miss my parents, my boyfriend, and my non-LA friends every day. I still haven’t really found a set up for my room that makes me happy and feels like it has the right flow. In fact, I often feel my energy bottom out when I get home from work…though that may have something to do with waking up at 3:30 most mornings.

My new home, much like my tree’s, is off the beaten path. It’s on a literal one block offshoot of a street that feels hidden from the neighborhood. Our house is the third in a row, up a hill, even further from said “beaten path.” And much like my tree the day it came home, this move has no guarantee of success.

Still, with all of that said, I am planted. I have a space where I can stretch my branches and continue to grow. It may not look like what I though it would when I was young. It may have challenges I did not expect that are beyond my control. But there is room here. There is nourishment. Though my loved ones are far away, they give me the unwavering strength and support I need to keep going.

There is time enough now to bloom.