good gifts

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This morning, James — that’s St. James, he of the way — gently reminded me …

So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. … And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. (James 1:17-18)

We enjoy a million pleasures — good gifts, just because. Newborns, soft and small. Giggles and guffaws. Four-part harmony. Acoustic strings. Seashore breezes. Mountaintop vistas. Replenishing raindrops. Sunshine, so warm. Moonlight, so bright. Another’s company. Quiet quietness. Chocolate and champagne, smooth and delicious. Elements of joy, unearned, undeserved, and too often unappreciated. They are ours, all the same. For a time.

Long before we moved in, a maple tree grew strong and tall to shade the farmhouse. It is so large I wonder if it was a wee sprout in 1825, when the original structure was built. It has remained a defining feature of the property, gifting us with its presence through a quarter century of expansions and renovations.

One of our first tasks was to fence in a play yard for the chids; it included the tree, complete with swing from the lowest limb. The fence is long gone and the yard is acres larger now; we’ve planted dozens of other trees. But the maple has remained a central point of family life. I cannot count the birthday parties and pool parties, tent outs and campfires, picnics and conversations over which grandfather maple has stood guard.

I’ve so appreciated its beauty through the seasons. Small, hopeful buds of spring turn to full leaf and deep, sheltering shade in summer. Bright autumn days cooled by crisp evenings transform the leaves to a blazing crown of orange-yellow glory. In winter, its branches stand bare and stark, frosted with snow against brilliantly clear blue skies. My favorite seat in the house lends perfect view of massive branches and majestic treetop through each season, unique in beauty.

I’ve often thought of grandparents when I’ve looked upon this big ol’ tree — mine, his, and our chids’. Grandparents stand guard as the next generation enters in. They often become allies and confidantes, gently guiding the wayward or confused. They infuse both historical and futuristic perspective, especially sensitive to the reality that life is too short: make the most of it. The best grandparents are invested; strong pillars, a consistent presence. Like this grand maple, they are just there. Always there. And always too soon, they are gone.

Recently we were disheartened to learn that the trunk of our old maple is split, perhaps beyond repair. Most of the massive limb system leans hard toward the house, some hanging heavy over the roof. The tree doctors are examining the damage to determine what we can do. It may be time to bid adieu. As the Hubs would say, “It doesn’t owe us anything” — and this is true. Our maple has lived an amazingly long, full and fruitful life. But it is irreplaceable. Home, sweet home, will never be quite as complete without this towering tree.

Isn’t that the nature of many good gifts? They are temporal, ours to enjoy for a time. The most precious gifts transcend generations, their influence remembered, somehow their presence still known. In this way, grand maples are like grandparents: they stand tall among the many good gifts.

~René Morley

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