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When I was a little boy, my favorite book was The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. Perhaps like most children, I was always saddened by the slow disappearance of the tree into the insatiable worldly desires of the young boy. The apples and branches and trunk all find their way into the black hole of the boy’s ambition.
“I want money, a house, a boat.” Take from my body, the tree says. I am told that the story is a parable for the selfless giving of a parent, a friend, a Christ, a God who is willing to sacrifice in the name of love and affection.
When I came into work the morning of Aug. 13, there was a tree in the public park next to the small, growing church where I serve. It was a beautiful tree, which I have sat underneath to read or talk with a friend ever since the days became warm enough to do so. I was underneath it just last week, reading about the history of our congregation. Later that day, on the 13th, some men began to take down some branches. Before noon, I realized the whole tree was coming down. By 4:30 pm, she was a 3-foot stump. My 8-year-old daughter stood at the window and asked why in the world would these men take down that tree.
“They’re just doing what they’re told to do. It’s not their idea.”
She wanted to know who would tell them to do such a thing.
“It’s the city. They need to make room for a sidewalk and a wider road.”
She looked out the glass door at my side for a long time. “I think the road is wide enough.”
This is especially difficult, because we just moved to this town. I am a young pastor with a young family called to a small, growing church in a small, growing town.
From the time I left my previous vocation to pursue this one over seven months ago, I have become the resident cheerleader in my home for all things concerning this small, growing town. My children, who carry the heaviest load, have been forced to adjust to a new house on a new street, find new friends, attend an unfamiliar school, and cope with a zealous father who is constantly trying to convince them that they just moved to heaven on earth.
And it really is heaven on earth. The schools are highly rated, the crime is low, everyone knows one another, the people are nice and the land is beautiful. Some of the most gorgeous horse farms in the country surround us in all directions.
Of course, because we are a growing town, the encroachment of wider roads and the construction of an enormous outlet mall are crowding into that space. And I am left in an uncomfortable position between loving the pristine, idyllic beauty of the land and being just one more transplanted human being that demands that the land give up her apples, her branches and her trunk so that I can live here.
I know the danger of taking on all the guilt of such forces, which necessitate the removal of trees, and I understand the dangers of over-simplification of complex issues such as development and population growth. And I know that if this were someone else’s town, I probably wouldn’t miss a step when a tree came down so that the road could be widened.
So it feels a little self-serving, not too mention a little disingenuous, for me to bemoan the loss of a tree that is the direct result of the growth of a town for which I am cheering, in which I am participating, and which I occasionally claim to understand.
But I wouldn’t be true to that sensitive little boy who used to cry when he read about a tree that gave everything she had if I didn’t admit that my own heart was wounded that day by the buzzing of chainsaws. And I hope never to reconcile the disparate yearnings in person’s soul to master and to be mastered by creation.
The tree was more than a prop in my picturesque new life; it is more than a metaphor in my philosophic reflections. It was a majestic and kind-hearted friend, who will be dearly missed.
Joey Pusateri is pastor of Simpsonville Christian Church.