Sunday, November 19, 2023

A Light in the Darkness


Trees. We talk a lot about them in Columbia/HoCo. We worry when new projects will cause mature trees to be cut down. We bemoan the hours of raking they will cause every Fall. We bless them for shade on a hot day but curse them if they make gardening difficult - - “too much shade.” We worry about that branch which hangs a little too close to our roof. 

We care about their environmental impact. I mean, some of us do.

Friday night there was a holiday tree lighting in the Merriweather District. Did you go? Was it fun?

Image from Merriweather District social media

 Here’s a different kind of tree-lighting event.

Vigil in Columbia tonight for 82 YO killed in crosswalk Sunday evening along with family dog, crossing cradle rock way.

Image from Pamela Ford on TwitterX

In this case a tree is central to a vigil in memory of Thomas Lee, who died after being hit by a car on November 13th. It appears he was out walking the dog.

The juxtaposition of the two gives me pause. Whether you think of festive tree lighting events as a way to “remember the reason for the season” or simply as a way to kick off a retail shopping frenzy, the Christmas tree is an icon representing celebration for many folks. The lone tree in Pamela Ford’s photo is not. We have come to recognize trees like this by the side of the road, marked by photos or signs, flowers or even small stuffed animals. 

These trees are memorials. They speak of suffering and loss and a deep desire that the departed not be forgotten. 

If a stunningly lit Christmas tree urges us to do anything it probably has to do with evoking a kind of celebratory mood that makes us want to take part in the cultural trappings of “the holiday season.” 

The tree in Owen Brown, illuminated only by prayer candles and “decorated” with bunches of flowers at its base, tells us something far different. Drive more safely. Look out for pedestrians. Value the lives of those who go on foot. Mourn the members of our community who met their ends too soon, and so senselessly. Remember them. Remember who they were. 

We expect a lot from trees. We put a lot of hope and meaning onto them. They mark both celebration and grief. More than simple growing things whose place is in the natural world - - we give them many meanings and ask them to carry the weight of many aspirations and symbolism.

Today, especially, I am thinking about how we ask trees to shine a light in the darkness for us.

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