The Oak Tree
- Johnny Ray Ryder Jr.
A mighty wind blew night and day.
It stole the Oak Tree's leaves away.
Then snapped its boughs
and pulled its bark
until the Oak was tired and stark.
But still the Oak Tree held its ground
while other trees fell all around.
The weary wind gave up and spoke,
"How can you still be standing Oak?"
The Oak Tree said, I know that you
can break each branch of mine in two,
carry every leaf away,
shake my limbs and make me sway.
But I have roots stretched in the earth,
growing stronger since my birth.
You'll never touch them, for you see
they are the deepest part of me.
Until today, I wasn't sure
of just how much I could endure.
But now I've found with thanks to you,
I'm stronger than I ever knew.
Our family dream vacation, when Ben was old enough to understand its beauty, was to visit Africa together. Not Disney World, not the Bahamas, but to go on an African safari. The girls had it planned out, maps drawn, they were researching all of the African mammals we were to see.
We had just recently taken Ben to the Bronx zoo – he was so enthralled with animals...and the dinosaurs on the new Dinosaur Safari exhibit. The look on his face below – that was my baby boy’s look of amazement that I would have seen on our African safari one day But, it was not to be…at least not as we had planned. I think of Anita Moorjani’s theory from her near death experience chronicled in Dying to Be Me: that we, in our human form, spend too much time in a doing mode, a planning mode, instead of a being mode in which we give up control and allow our lives to “unfold before [us].”
Yesterday, I arrived at an isolated ranch outside San Antonio, Texas, where an angel of a friend welcomed us into his home to host us for a week. He explained that, one day, sitting on his back terrace, he had realized he was viewing an African savanna but unique in the miraculous splattering of oak trees in the deep yet powdery sand of the Texan landscape before him. And, his haven became “Savannah Oaks.” Not like I had planned, but we had arrived on our little piece of Africa, right here before us.
As I lay on the rooftop patio last night, I could touch the stars. My gaze scanned through the constellations in search of you, Ben. As I yearned to see your smile and hear your giggles again, I only heard the buzz of airplanes hidden in the darkness above. I wanted more, I needed to hear the word you said the Saturday before you left us…”Mommy.” But, there was just space, stars, and silence....
I realized the hardest part of this journey is not that we believe we cannot live without you, Ben. It is that we know and feel we have a long life ahead of us, and we must Live it without you physically in our arms. Right now, that is simply a deep pain ingrained in our chest, but we have hope that one day the pain can turn into a celebration of the 15 months we had, and the gift of your life will shine through, in the sunrise and sunsets, as we continue to live on to follow the path you are laying out before us.
Like the deeply rooted oak tree, which can withstand the fiercest of winds, we will remain strong so we can continue to grow and show your beauty. It is said that an oak tree’s roots mirror its branches above the ground and that the root system of a mature oak tree can total miles, serving as an anchor to the life branches above.
Being in the early stages of our difficult journey to find you again, Ben, last night my logical brain just saw the stars and heard the man-made airplanes buzzing in the Heavens, but my heart and soul are fighting to feel the energy and love that is You and that remains with us, yet unseen, only felt.
As I look toward the mighty oak trees growing on the horizon, I know that there is so much more to this physical life that is beyond our limited, human senses. Like its roots spreading their tentacles below the earth, there is so much more for me to explore and sense as I find my way back to you. Patience, time, and I listen to the wind churning quietly across the plains, the loud chirp of a bird in the night sky, the echo of my voice as I yell “I love you” across the Colorado canyon – and I will find you, my love.
We miss and cherish you Benjamin.