Caesar, I called you. You were bald in the middle of your top, with a crown of leaves all around, and somehow I had the idea that Emperors looked like that. Yours were not laurel leaves of victory, though. They were maple leaves.
You stood by a hill, near the church. Your feet were so near the base of the hill, and your long, strong, silvery branches reached out so broadly that I could step from the hill onto a round, gray highway and walk into your heart. There were other strong branches just at the right height for handrails to hold while I walked in, and my highway grew wider as I neared the center.
The center. The nexus from which all your arms reached. It contained nestling places that were deep and wide, just the size for a young teenager to curl into, or lounge along, with her legs stretched out. There was even a spot where two branches ran along together and a person could lie down.
You had a listening heart, old Caesar. I told you all my troubles. If I was particularly sad, I turned inward and wrapped both my arms and my legs around you.
Well, I don’t know if you listened, precisely, but you never interrupted, or judged, or scolded. You didn’t think I was foolish. You didn’t mind if I cried, or laughed, or ranted.
I loved you.
I was heartbroken when the powers that be decided you were too old and rotten to remain. I’m glad I wasn’t there when they cut you down. I am no longer in that area often, but when I pass by where you used to stand, I still feel a twinge of sadness. And of gladness, for memory.
A whole row of maples a lot like you line my road now. They stand patiently through cold and heat, storm and shadow. They hold up little green leaves in spring, make sugar out of sunshine all summer, and shower great golden coins in fall. They stand, just as patiently, holding loads of snow and ice on bare, creaking branches.
Who said, “If you would learn patience, cultivate the friendship of trees”?
Trees don’t ask why. They don’t complain when it’s stormy or their branches break. They willingly give up the fruit they have worked hard to produce, and they don’t expect to bear fruit all the time without breaks. They wait through winter and drought. And if they don’t make it, and die, they lie down and create fertile humus for other young growth.
Trees are good friends.
They don’t actually listen, or hold, or comfort. They don’t do things “willingly” or “patiently,” or “work hard” to make fruit, or “give it up” when it is made. They don’t think anything at all of us.
They just remind us of the One who does. And that is possibly the greatest action a friend can do.