Lifting one another up during difficult times

The gingko tree in Vicky Hagan's yard. Courtesy of Vicky Hagan
The gingko tree in Vicky Hagan's yard. Courtesy of Vicky Hagan

Credit: Vicky Hagan

Credit: Vicky Hagan

Where I find strength during this pandemic

When I was at that awkward age of 13 years old, I felt like I did not belong. When you are that age, you are not yet a woman and no longer a little girl. So, I would climb this tree in middle of a small intersection in my neighborhood and hide for several hours every day.

I could spend 30 minutes to an hour in that tree just watching an inchworm move up and down and wondering if he even knew where he was going. I loved the sound the wind would make as it rustled the leaves and gently touched my face. I felt safe in the strength of those huge arms that held me there. Trees have always been my sanctuary, my place of calm, my place of strength and where I feel I belong.

Vicky Hagan is a community contributor from Marietta. Courtesy of Vicky Hagan
Vicky Hagan is a community contributor from Marietta. Courtesy of Vicky Hagan

Credit: Vicky Hagan

Credit: Vicky Hagan

It’s not just me who feels this way about trees. Many years ago, I had the chance to speak to an older Gullah woman for whom Habitat for Humanity was building a house. The nonprofit was building on the same lot where her old, dilapidated home sat. I complimented her on what a beautiful and large oak tree she had on her lot. It was massive with Spanish moss draping almost to the ground. I told her what a treasure she owned.

She told me that she buried her baby boy under that tree, and I expressed my condolences.

She said, “No he just could not walk, so we buried him up to his chest below the oak tree for 24 hours.” She said she stayed with him the whole time and when they dug him out, he could stand and walk.

I was at a loss for words. I did not want to show any judgement, because she and I are from different cultures. There are many superstitions about trees and who’s to say what is right or what is wrong?

So, after 15 long seconds of looking into her eyes and searching for her reason, I came up with, “Oh the strength of the oak tree gave your baby strength in his legs?"

She said, ”You know – you understand." I am a tree person and she was a tree person, but that conversation shocked me and has always stayed with me.

Now the trees are saving my sanity. For five months I have been sitting on my back deck watching the same trees change and evolve. I am not changing and I am not evolving. I am stuck. There is so much loss and grief in this world right now. So much rage and hostility. Even my easygoing friends are having episodes of rage over nothing and they don’t know why. The rage we all are feeling is having our past lives ripped away from us and trying to figure out what are new lives will be. There’s so much bad that it feels like we are in an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

I usually am an optimist and an extrovert. I have always felt comfortable in a crowd of people I do not know. Now some days I struggle to find the good in the world. Probably two days a week I feel like I am wearing concrete shoes. It is a struggle to do anything. I get up and want to go back to bed because of the emptiness of my day. Projects, projects, projects but no people. I miss my people. I miss my jobs. I miss live music, crowds and parties. We all are grieving some loss. Some so much more than others. No matter who you are, we all are grieving. I have had more than my share of grief in life. I know it is a struggle to get through it. You must feel it, wallow in it, get angry and then accept it and somehow move on.

I am so thankful that when we bought this house many years ago we planted 25 trees. I find hope in the spring green color that bursts out of nowhere and blankets my skyline. How amazing is the dark green, waxy magnolia leaf as it searches for just the right amount of sunshine for its beautiful, white flowers to open? I love the beautiful shape of the ginkgo leaf as it unfolds into its perfect little fan.

The bright red of the Japanese maples explodes on to the scene. And once the red maple goes to seed, I watch the squirrels do unbelievable acrobatics to get to the very last seed pod.

The tree canopy makes room for the wandering birds that flit through and sometimes make their nests. Every day I sit on my back deck and listen to the chorus of birds. First it is the loud blue jay waking me up every morning and in the afternoon all the pretty little song birds sing to me. Late at night I see two barred owls that are watching me and maybe my little Yorkie. I am watching them back. They sit very close to me every night.

The katydids and cicadas don’t get here until July, but when they show up it is deafening. Their song is like the tails of one thousand snakes rattling simultaneously. They live in the trees and sing me to sleep. They wipe away all my negative thoughts with their repetitious sound.

I marvel at the way the wind makes my trees dance and sway just for me. Their large arms shelter me from the sun and heat of the summer. My trees' soaring heights make me feel stronger and closer to the clouds and heavens. I feel much larger than my 5-foot-3-inch frame.

Maybe the Gullah lady was right. Maybe the trees are giving me some of their strength to keep standing, keep walking, keep smiling because there still is beauty out there. You can find many small doses of happiness.

I just try to stay sane on the days when I am wearing those concrete shoes. I tell myself I am not going to wear those shoes two days in a row. I make myself go outside and wander in the woods for a while. I must be quiet for a few minutes and look up to find strength in the beauty that surrounds me. Sometimes you have to silence the rest of the world for a while so you can find your own path to joy.

Vicky Hagan, a community contributor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is a resident of Marietta and writes the travel blog

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