This blog usually features stories about finding and making beauty in the hurt places of the Earth. But sometimes the hurt places are in us humans-and nature, both spoiled and splendid, can offer gifts of healing and wholeness. This is a story about one extraordinary encounter. I tell it in my book, Radical Joy for Hard Times, but I was recently reminded of it and offer it again here.
Several years ago, some colleagues and I developed a week-long retreat called Facing the Mystery for people with life-altering illnesses. A central feature was daily time spent in solitude in a park near Evergreen, Colorado, where the program was held. We would drive from the private home that was our meeting place to the park, and people would go off on their own for an hour or so. People were in wheelchairs would direct one of us facilitators along the concrete paths until we came upon what seemed like a desirable place. The facilitator would leave until it was time to pick the person up.
One participant, Angelica, had undergone twenty-five surgeries on her intestinal tract in just five years, and although she looked fit, she was not expected to live much longer. One afternoon, while she was sitting on a bench in the park, her attention was drawn to two large spruces standing side by side. One tree was lush and healthy, with vibrant green boughs. The other was dead. Its limbs had fallen off and knobs of fungus crept up its trunk.
“That dead tree, that’s me,” Angelica thought. She noticed a magpie flying around the two trees, as if looking for a place to land. She was sure it would alight in the healthy tree, for who, after all, would not choose the beautiful and whole over the broken and dead? Instead, the bird settled in the dead tree. Angelica was stunned. Later, when she told the story to the group, tears filled her eyes. Having already identified the dead tree as herself, she felt as if she had received a blessing from some winged, ineffable source, something from the world of spirit, and she recognized that, despite her infirmities, she was a whole and valued person.
In our own times of brokenness, nature accepts us. Accepting nature in her own brokenness is how we can give back.