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In passing


I was driving into town this morning and noticed a guy working in his front yard. He had cleared sod from a four-foot circle and covered it with a gentle mound of black mulch. Standing on edge in the center of the circle was a slab of tree trunk, wide as a rain barrel, stained and polished to highlight its grain, with his family's surname in black letters chiseled into the wood.

Sooner than the man realizes, it will be gone. Sun will crack the polished finish. Rain, snow and wind will weather its grain. Moisture from the mulch will decay the bottom edge. Bugs will eat it—all faster with each passing year.

I have seen trees that someone carved thick, deep initials into years ago. Such gashes heal themselves from the edges, closing the wounds like skin heals a cut. New bark fills the gaps, leaving dim scars. If the trees are strong, like oaks, they may stand for decades having erased the carvers' futile efforts to make memories. If the trees are fragile, like birch, nature will fell them sooner than the initial-carvers think, perhaps in a cloudburst, perhaps when roots let go of spring's saturated soil, perhaps because of pests and disease enabled by the cutting. These trees will lie on the ground, an ant's picnic, a termite's buffet line, an earthworm's snack, before being swallowed by weeds and brush.

On Infinity's clock, stone markers decay as quickly as wood. Walk through a cemetery's oldest sections and count the tombstones bleached white, names illegible, life spans vanished. These markers, meant to help us remember, instead remind us of what we have forgotten. A clearer human context is found in Ecclesiastes 9:11.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Time and chance happen to us all. It's not comforting to know that sooner than we think, we will fall like trees and, for those of us who choose to be buried, our tombstones' brief notes will fade into nothingness.

These are thoughts I try to avoid because of their soulless lack of hope. This morning, though, as I saw the man sweating under a blue sky, marking his claim on that piece of the Earth, I was reminded that all things must pass.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 25th, 2015 01:56 am (UTC)
Oh, wow. This is so beautiful and melancholy and scary all at once. I'll read it at least a dozen more times.
Aug. 25th, 2015 12:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jamie. I'm trying to listen more to what I'm thinking—trying to capture thoughts that otherwise would slide by. They're like sparks for posts. I was driving past this guy the other day and the thought of impermanence flashed through my mind because in high school, I had carved thick initials on a tree down by the river and, over the years, watched the tree heal its wounds and then, years later, get blown down in a storm and eventually swallowed by its surroundings. My brain moved on, but then I realized my sequence of thoughts might be something to write about. The first three paragraphs came easily, and the fourth one stuttered into being, but then I stalled. The Ecclesiastes jump-started the piece, and then everything else fell into place. Of course, it always takes more time to polish something than it does to write it, and just about everything I write is considerably different than the draft. New words and phrases suggest themselves to me, while existing ones reveal themselves to be not suitable. So there you have it: a peek into the writing process. Well, my process, anyway. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Aug. 25th, 2015 12:39 pm (UTC)
You've done a great job at putting those fleeting thoughts into words and creating a wonderful, tangible thing. I think it hit me so strongly because I've been experiencing fleeting feelings of fear about ceasing to exist.

And your description of what will happen to that slab of tree trunk is exactly - exactly! - what happened to a small marker someone made to commemorate the white birch tree they brought us in Doc's honor the Father's Day after he passed. The tree is still going, but the "Doc" marker is long gone.

I don't so much feel hopelessness as panic when I project ahead what I'm currently experiencing with my mother-in-law and my mom to what might lie ahead for our two sons.

Anyhow...I just love this piece for all the reasons I first named.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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