My tree stands by the Cemetery Road by the Old Stone Bridge, and none may cross the bridge without passing it first. It’s a stately beech tree, and that tree and I are friends. Its long branches shade the path, and its roots reach out to nearby graves.
This has left the tree open to a great deal of abuse. Something about the smooth, immaculate bark of a beech invites tormentors as surely as caves invite echoes. Over the years, vandals have carved memorials — deep slashes, names, initials, declarations of love long forgotten now, but the tree has not forgotten a thing. Everything remains etched in the living wood.
Despite its scars, my beech tree is pleasant to touch — solid, clean, just the size to get my arms around if I wish. It stands unresisting, waiting for abusers and for mad tree-huggers alike, for those who ignore it and those who stop to pay a visit.
A Good Place to Cry
When life is difficult, I go for a walk in Union Cemetery. I lean on my beech tree and cry. A cemetery is a good place to cry; no human visitor bothers you or asks you why you are crying. The tree offers no hollow consolation or advice. It remains alive, present, listening in its way, in the way that all of nature listens. The graves are old and silent — the ones surrounding my beech were filled a hundred years ago. There is no sound but my sobs, and the crunch of beech leaves under my feet.
I have no relatives buried in Union Cemetery. My family is buried far away. I could not go to my grandfather’s funeral, and I’ve never seen his grave. I mourn by myself, in Union Cemetery, clinging to the trunk of a beech tree, and I know my grandfather hears. All of nature, all of creation hears, and the Father hears as well; the Great Father who speaks to His children through beech trees and forests, through the cries of the prophets, and through the dying groan of His only-begotten Word.
There is, after all, only ever one grave — one Earth, and to Earth the ashes fall and are buried at the roots of one Tree. There is only one Death, one door which all pass through: my grandfather, myself, and every tree in Union Cemetery. Even the Word Made Flesh passed through that door and was buried in this same Earth, after He embraced the Tree.
Only one cry is heard in Ramah, Rachel mourning for her all of her children, mourning and not consoled, and she is mourning still. There is only one death groan and that is Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani: it is accomplished, Father, into Your hands I commend my Spirit. We breathe our last, and it is all the same breath.
There is one Resurrection as well, and I’m told its time has already begun. His mother mourned and could not be consoled; then she saw Him, and was glad. He raised her up, and she is with Him now.
May We Follow
May we all follow where they have gone. My beech tree, with its roots in the graves, its tortured trunk before me and its branches in Heaven, tells me that in its way. All of creation was placed here, in part, to teach me that lesson.
One day I will return to the cemetery to find that Rachel has dried her eyes at last, because He has returned. On that day, He will tell me all things plainly. Until then, he speaks in parables, and the beech tree is one of them.
Mary Pezzulo writes the Steel Magnificat weblog for Patheos. This article is a shorter version of an article that first appeared there.