Up Front and Personal

A Tree Down in Brooklyn

By Veronica Szczygiel

During Tropical Storm Isaias, several brave birds visited the feeder in my Brooklyn garden, so I was hopeful that we would weather this storm unscathed. I was wrong.

The tree in front of my home had completely been torn in half by the powerful winds. Thankfully, no one was hurt when this happened, and a nearby vehicle suffered only minor cosmetic damages.

But I grew up with this flowering pear tree, and at that moment, it felt like I had lost a dear friend.

It was planted in the late ’90s when my grandfather was still alive. When he became physically homebound, he loved to look at the birds twittering about in its branches. And when he was sick with cancer and dementia in the very late stages of his life, seeing the tree’s pearly white spring blossoms still brought a smile to his face.

I, too, loved this tree, which grew taller and wider with each passing year, until it reached the third story window of my childhood bedroom.

Its dark green leaves and early fall berries that attracted hungry, chatty starlings helped me persevere through hours spent studying for exams, doing coursework, and even writing my dissertation.

Looking up from a textbook to see that heavenly tree always made me feel more relaxed and hopeful.

Historically, the tree lived through 9/11, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Hurricane Sandy, and now part of the coronavirus pandemic. Personally, the tree had witnessed the passing of my grandparents, my Confirmation, my various proms and graduations, and my wedding.

It had seen me at my worst and my best. And I had seen it at its best and its worst: Hurricane Sandy damaged one of its limbs, but my boyfriend at the time (now husband) patched up the gaping hole where the limb had been, and it survived—until now.

I never expected this tree to fall because it had always seemed so strong and so steadfast. I counted on it to remind me to stay determined through setbacks. And yet, despite its sturdy exterior, it finally revealed its interior vulnerability.

We are also like this tree. So often, we put on a tough exterior, exuding an outer confidence to try to get through the day. But inside, we are just as vulnerable. Maybe we are insecure, lonely, sad, or scared. Sometimes, we hide this part of ourselves because we don’t want people to know about our weaknesses or judge us by them.

But weaknesses are part of being human. God loves each and every one of us because he knows we can be weak — but through his grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love, we can become stronger, inside and out.

I think especially in these trying times, we need to remember that each of us has a sensitive, breakable core like my tree did. Let’s treat each other with the patience and kindness that God has for us. That way, we can stand strong and weather any storm that comes our way — together.

Veronica Szczygiel, Ph.D. is the Assistant Director of Online Learning of the Graduate School of Education at Fordham University.

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