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Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Autumn Tale of Beauty and Disaster

Tonight is Story Time With Adoro. Why? Because it's been awhile and my readers are bored.

I love Autumn. It's my favorite season. The vibrant colors of the trees capture me, the cooling temperatures soothe my heated brow, and the scent of leaves and bonfires sends me soaring.

So many see this season as a time to begin school or other things, and indeed, I see that, too. I await with dread all the things that "ramp up" and wish I could just escape into the beauty, rather than into the imprisoning chambers of work or school that prevent me from touching the majesty of God's creation.

This year it's been awful; a week ago when my street was supposed to bloom into full golden glory of color, it froze, it snowed, and then a wind blew. Less than twelve hours later all of the trees were bare and both the gold and the green leaves were plastered to the ground. Those leaves left on the trees were already turning pruny, and the next day were brown and dead. No glory this year. We went from pretty and lively to....dead and hopeless.

Not helpful, God, but I love you anyway. I'm sure there's a metaphor there somewhere, to be figured out when I get around to it.

But! Instead of lingering and moping about my street's lack of beauty, I have decided to remember what I love about this usually-beautiful season, and share with you one of my favorite memories of this time of year. It's one that unites the heights of joy and the depths of humiliation and agony.

Are you interested? Read on.....

The Red Maple

When I was a little girl, growing up in a little country neighborhood, I was enchanted by the Maple tree that graced our front yard. It was my favorite place. I could sit down and rest against it, I buried my dear guppies there with great ceremony (hilarious story I must tell one day), and that tree is where I first learned to contemplate...and to fly. Maybe even to trust.

Everyone knows that children are inventive. I grew up while video games existed, but were considered to be indulgent luxuries. We knew all the great cartoons, but spent most of our days playing in our country neighborhood, exploring the hills, talking walks, playing with other children, and...inventing new games and new adventures.

You can imagine, then, how my older brother saw the Maple tree not as something simply beautiful to behold, but as our own personal jungle gym. It seemed an obsession with him...every time we left the house, he would head directly to the tree in his quest to conquer it and rest among her branches.

His constant quest to climb higher constantly aggravated Mom, but intrigued me.

I wanted to do what he did. I wanted that courage. I wanted the vantage point he described. I wanted to rest in those branches, too!

It wasn't long before I went to the tree and, with heartfelt tears, complained I couldn't climb because I couldn't reach the lowest branch. Initially my brother teased me, but eventually good will overcame him and in a rare show of brotherly love, he pulled our picnic table to the tree and instructed me to stand on it, feeling I would be able to reach the branch and climb from that point.

I was still frightened, but my brother encouraged me, directed me and finally, I made it to the first branch. I don't recall whether he pulled me up or pushed me up where needed, but I do remember that I didn't make my first climb alone. It took several tries before I finally figured it out. He tried even to encourage me to venture out into his favorite branch, but I refused at first, needing to become accustomed to the lowest before ascending to what was higher.

The unfortunate part of this was that "my" branch was our JUMPING branch; it was...our exit from the Maple Tree.

Oh, yes...what goes up must come down. And if it's fun, it must come down REPEATEDLY and with much enthusiasm!

We had a new hobby!

My brother and I would rake up leaves beneath the lowest branch (which wasn't that low), and in a rare show of sibling support and love, we would get along in this great endeavor of survival. Where usually we argued, in the Maple Tree we had peace. It was an unwritten and unplanned sanctuary. It didn't matter what hatred we had for each other below...but while in those branches and leaping from them, we loved each other and willed each other's good.

That meant that we developed rules.

The first rule was that I had to learn to climb the tree by myself, but there was a grace period given to me for that, based on my height and ability. You see.,.my brother was a good teacher and a good brother, at heart, and knew I couldn't do anything on my own or without his wise direction. Or limits.

I hate to admit it, but he was right. I respected him and dang it...learned to climb that tree because of HIM and no one else!

Our second rule was far more serious, for we had the basic understanding that anything hitting the ground from any height tended to explode. If it worked with eggs, it worked with us.

Our exit custom involved raking the colorful leaves into a nice big pile under the designated exit branch, and after my brother had experimented with the softness of it, he finally convinced me to take this great leap, rather than having him assist me down via the picnic table.

Oh, what a terrifying leap it was! Oh how I stared at those terrible leaves, trying to imagine them as feathers, trying to trust the brother who so normally tortured me...but would never will my ultimate demise!

I still recall perching on that forked branch, there among the red-colored leaves, knowing my only way down was to let go....

And so it was....

I still remember the leap and the soft landing, the explosion of color, and the rapid ascent of us both as we sought to repeat the thrill of weightlessness and color.

Of course, it wasn't long before Mom came outside in terrified horror (or was it horrified terror?) to inspect our new game. She saw that, in fact, it was a good game, we had our own rules, and established in stone that we could ONLY leap from certain branches. She saw our rare cooperation and thought it a good thing, over and above the danger that we might be injured. She saw love before she saw anything else, and in the end, gave her approval.

Not all such games were good, though.

Stupidity and concupiscence always enters Eden

Our neighbor, a teen I greatly admired and even adored, didn't have a tree in her yard. She saw what we were doing and, because the leaves from the forest and her neighbors were plentiful, she had no problem raking them into a big pile in her own yard.

One day as I played alone, she invited me to join her which was a very big deal. Why would Annette ever want me to play with her? But I went, and we had a great time leaping from the top of a ladder she'd erected, landing in the leaves. From the ladder, maybe it was lower than the branch, but it was an easier climb which meant more chances to free-fall into the crunchy, colorful leaves

They were so soft that they led me to misunderstand physics.

So it was that I climbed the ladder, and, from the top, bent my knees hoping to land on them in the same way I landed on my springy feet. I didn't understand how the human body absorbed shock, I didn't understand that the leaves weren't really "springy"; my legs were. The leaves just helped a little.

I remember leaping, and in mid-air, hearing Annette scream at me in alarm, "DON'T DO THAT!"

She was older and understood physics in a way I did not. It wasn't scientific, but practical.

Annette couldn't do anything to save me from the disaster that awaited me.

I remember landing, my legs bent beneath me. I didn't "bounce" as expected, but rather, the concussion of the landing compressed my entire body, the landing a complete, abrupt shock.

I didn't "spring" or "bounce" or anything. Instead, I was driven into the ground as a whole and rolled to the side, stunned, unable to move my legs, unable to stand.

It was pain...but it wasn't. To this day, even KNOWING about spinal injuries, I can't describe the sensation. It was a pain I'd never felt, but which told me that this time, it was serious. I quite literally couldn't will my legs to move, I couldn't stand up although I tried.

Annette asked me if I was alright but all I could do was cry. I wasn't "alright" but was afraid Mom would find out what I did and punish me. I felt helpless and hated Annette's comments, telling me I was fine and telling me to "GET UP! You have to get up! Stop crying!"

I couldn't get up. I tried. Several times. I couldn't. My back and legs hurt so badly that I couldn't move, my legs actually wouldn't work at all, and I realized I had to do SOMETHING.

To her credit, Annette told me to just wait a minute. I wanted to go home. She didn't want to let me go home.

It was years before I realized Annette was terrified, too; just as terrified as I that I'd been seriously injured. From my perspective, I didn't want Mom to know. From her perspective...she was older and felt like she was at fault. I wish I'd listened to her and just laid there, waiting either for someone else to come, or just to feel better.

But I have never been one to wait when things are wrong, and, well...she let me go.

In tears, I went home. In tears, still unable to stand, barely able to move at all, I CRAWLED across her yard, across the street, and through our yard, hoping Mom wouldn't look out or think anything strange of my behavior. (Yeah, right...Adoro crawling across the street. Not strange at all...never mind the gravel...)

All I knew was that something was seriously wrong with me, I didn't want any attention, and hoped that if I just got home and ignored would go away. I don't know how, but I managed to crawl all that distance (in excruciating pain), across the gravel road, into the house and to my room, pulling myself into bed. Hoping that maybe a nap would make it all better.

I remember thinking about Jesus, and how He fell when carrying His cross.

I remember Mom yelling at me from some other part of the house when she heard the door open, asking what I was doing. I just said I was tired and wanted to take a nap. Mom probably figured that was a blessed event, and never actually came out of the kitchen to see what I was doing. I was glad...I still couldn't stand up, and I was exhausted from all that crawling.

It didn't take me long to cry myself to sleep in terrified exhaustion. I never wanted to jump out of anything ever again.

I remember opening my eyes that afternoon and moving my legs. I remember carefully sitting up, carefully standing. There was no pain. It was all gone. I stood in my room and even JUMPED, waiting to collapse to the floor. It never happened.

I wondered if it was a dream, but knees and my palms told another story, one told by gravel and dirt, and not all of it could be washed away.

Mom NEVER knew and STILL doesn't know of that event. I still puzzle it over, having had some medical training. I have a few theories but can't say I totally understand. Obviously, much of the pain was muscular, but when I consider the distance of my leap and the compression upon my spine, I am amazed I DIDN'T have a spinal injury, and have NEVER had back problems that didn't come from a different DIRECT injury (later in life - a result of an assault at work.)

As it was, I lived to walk another day, to run, and even to leap. I never again leapt from Annette's ladder, although I do recall she was overjoyed to see me walking later, and even teased me a little. Yet...she never brought it up again. My brother and I, we continued to leap out of the tree and a year later, used both the lower and higher branches to exit in to our respective piles of leaves. One branch became "His" and I would bring books up there so that, if he was gone, I could sit up there and read, or contemplate, or imagine. I "wrote" stories in my imagination, concealed myself in color and perhaps learned that the best place to be, ever, is in the present, especially when one is enclosed by colorful leaves and resting in the strong arms of a majestic maple tree somewhere in the Midwest. return to those days....

Why do any of us ever have to grow up?


Joe of St. Thérèse said...

There are many times where I wish we could go back to the simplicities of childhood

Maureen said...

Just not the part where we practically kill ourselves from lack of understanding physics! :)

Cathy_of_Alex said...

I'm glad you were ok. Nice prep for your penitential excursion up the Scala Sancta in St. John Lateran when you get to Rome!

When you have story time I want to make some Jiffy popcorn, cuddle with my cats and throw a wrap on. Next time, let me know ahead of time, ok? :-)

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Leaving in sunny California, I don't get to see leaves on the ground, only on the trees. I do remember in a distant kind of way jumping in leaves in New England eons ago.

Mary333 said...

At least you two put leaves in a pile underneath you. I made big cardboard wings and jumped off a shed. When the wings did not work well, I went in the house and got an umbrella and was about to pull a Mary Poppins maneuver from the roof of our carport when my dad came out and caught me and pulled me off the ladder. I don't think it would have gone too well:) I am glad that you were not seriously injured. No wonder God gives us guardian angels; we would never make it through childhood without them!

Mary333 said...

Cathy has a good point, popcorn is good with movies and stories. Maybe you could sell bags in your sidebar ;)