A few weeks ago, I went out on a steamy July morning to be a part of a group of volunteers with the Savannah Tree Foundation. Our task was to tend the trees which were planted at the intersection of the Truman Parkway and Whitefield Avenue when the Truman Extension project was completed. I was pleased to see Commissioner Stone among our group of volunteers, too. As the day became too hot for us to work any more, I was at the southwest corner of the intersection, and I noticed a particular young tree. This tree had obviously come unmoored from the stake that was supposed to support its thin trunk. Then, it had been damaged, perhaps by a mower, or maybe by the weather. Whatever hit it, the tree was bent over at 90 degrees, so that the trunk was parallel to the ground. As a dutiful volunteer, I reported the damaged tree to the director of the Tree Foundation, Karen Jenkins, who was supervising our group of volunteers. I expected she would make a note of the damaged tree so she could remember to get someone to come out and remove it.
But that is not what she did. Instead, she said she had seen that tree, and pointed out that it was still alive. It had branches growing out of its bent-over trunk which were healthy and leafy. And the top of the tree had already turned around and started growing heavenward again. She said that she imagined that someday, people would look at that tree and think it is the most fascinating tree in the whole intersection.
As soon as she said that, I knew what I had done. I had looked at that tree and only seen it as damaged. But Karen had looked at it and seen it as a survivor. She allowed herself to become fascinated by its strength, its endurance, and its ability to right itself and keep on growing toward the light. She saw its unique potential to contribute to the whole scene, to stand out, specifically because it was not like all the other trees.
I’ve started to wonder since that morning whether I do the same thing to people. I look at people who don’t conform to my ideas about what is normal, and I see them as damaged. I pity them, or I dismiss them, or I otherwise try to have them removed. And I wonder if I need to look instead more often through a lens of compassion, to see how those people who don’t conform are fascinating survivors who have a unique and important contribution they can make.
I don’t know all of the business you commissioners will have before you this morning. But I do know that, at its root, all of that work has to do with the people who live and work together in our county. And I hope you will be able to approach your work with the compassion Karen had for that unique, fascinating tree.
Will you pray with me?
Holy God, you are the source of all of life, of all beauty and joy, of all grace and compassion. We thank you for your presence in our world in all of the ways we see every day: in the beauty of this part of the world, in the abundance of sunshine and water, of dirt and trees, of opportunities and creative ideas, of care and support shared among neighbors. I thank you for the people in this room today: the Commissioners, the staff, the people with business before the Commission, and the observers, and for the enormous resources they represent.
I pray today for this meeting, that everyone here might feel your presence. I pray that that work which happens here today will show the best of good governance. I pray that the resources which the people here make decisions about may be used for the good of all citizens, especially those who are poor, vulnerable, and powerless. I pray that power might be used well, that wisdom might be applied in everything which is discussed, and that compassion and grace will guide the discussion and debate.
Show us your glory, Holy God, and bring us your wisdom and your peace, so that together we may do the work you would have us do, joining with you to bring about your vision of justice, peace, joy, and beauty. I pray all of this in your holy name. Amen.
[Note: I went back to that intersection yesterday to try to get a photo of the tree, and I was disappointed to see it had been removed. I was disappointed not only because of the loss of yet another tree from our community (click here and here and especially here to see what I think about tree removal). I was also disappointed because of the loss of what that particular, fascinating tree could have shown us as it grew up.]