As a young boy living in upstate New York, I loved roaming through the nearby woods and fields by myself, on summer days. One sunny afternoon I came upon a tall, thick-trunked tree that had a deep scar on it’s lower portion. It looked like it had been struck by lightning some years before, and was damaged there. Yet it continued to grow.
That memory came to mind recently, as I reflecting on experiences of loss in our relationships and lives, over time; and what endures from them. I recall an essay by the novelist Walter Mosley, who wrote about an awakening, as a small child – his first “mystery.” He described a memory of his three-year-old self in the backyard of his parents’ house, in which he realized, “These must be my parents” and he called out to them. “My mother nodded. My father said my name. Neither touched me, but I had learned by then not to expect that.”
He described ”an emptiness in my childhood that I filled up with fantasies,” and noted that “the primitive heart that remembers is, in a way, eternal.” Interestingly, Mosley grew into the acclaimed mystery novelist he is, today.
Sometimes an unexpected event triggers a memory of a once-meaningful adult relationship. It may have faded over time, but had etched itself onto our soul. For example, the writer Lee Montgomery described a drop-in visit by the son of her first lover, with whom she had many romantic and adventurous experiences in her early youth, during the 1970s. “When I think of Ian, I think of endless days hanging out in the woods and fields around our New England prep schools, sucking dope out of a metal chamber pipe. Ian showed me the world and taught me to live in it. New York City. The Great West. And Europe, where we lived for several months during his first college year abroad.”
Eventually, their relationship ended. She went on with her life, married, began a career. He inherited money, married, “…had no career that I knew of and shot himself when he was in his 30s.”
The son, quite young at the time his father committed suicide, was now about the age Montgomery when she and his father were lovers. He had dropped by her office hoping to hear some stories of what his father was like. Montgomery describes how fresh and alive the memories felt to her, as she drew into them: “Sitting across a booth studying this young man, I was overwhelmed. So many years later, I was stunned to find the feeling of first love still there.”
Experiences like these reveal the enduring nature loss of love and connection. That they affect us eternally. And most crucially, how we may “evolve” from them. In fact, they may be necessary for our continued growth. It doesn’t matter if they arise from a child’s loss of loving parental connection; from an adult love relationship that dies — at any age; or from an unexpected death. Nor does it matter if that loss resulted from something we did that harmed or damaged a relationship that was important to us. The consequences have a permanent shelf-life; they can’t be undone. Those experiences and the losses from them become woven into the larger tapestry of our lives, where remain as that tapestry continues to expand over time.
And that’s what brought to mind the image of old tree trunk. The tree was damaged where the lightning had struck, but over the years the trunk had continued to grow around it. Gradually, the growth encompassed the damaged part within it. And that’s what’s hopeful about ourselves: Our capacity to encompass the “damage” as we grow though our life experiences. We can incorporate and learn from them, and become stronger if we embrace them as a visible, enduring part of who we are and who we continue to become.
Credit: CPD Archive