As I walked the Santa Rosa Coffee Park Neighborhood as a volunteer chaplain on Sunday, I saw this sturdy man sorting through the ash and debris in the ghosted shape of what used to be his home.
It turned out, he was a man who loved trees—and once he said it, I could see their still skeletons arching over and sheltering the cavity that used to be a house. Only rubble and ashes could be seen for several leveled blocks.
I walked up to him and waited to get his attention. People can be deep in thought... He looked up and we spoke through masks--
“My name is Rev. Eleesabeth, I am a volunteer with Salvation Army. We’re walking the neighborhood checking on everyone..."
He smiled (I could tell by the way the mask crinkled up…). He thanked me for being there. It is one of the best gifts of great loss—we see the blessing in people simply reaching out.
“Everyone got out…I woke them up.” People wanted to tell their stories to us. (We were witnessing their unreality… and sharing just a bit of it.) “I started banging on doors…and all my neighbors got out. But I wouldn’t have gotten up if it wasn’t for this tree here.” He pointed to the lean, upright bones of a street tree. There wasn’t a leaf, or twig or branch on it— just a naked trunk.” It was a Chinese elm…strong wood, pretty bark…a sturdy, hardy, don’t-mess-with-me street tree. “My wife was always on me to cut it down but we lived in the house for 35 years, and I never did. She was in Mexico when it happened… and that tree woke me up. It rained down little pellets on my window…I thought it was hail... That tree woke me up…and I woke up all my neighbors.”
“That tree…saved my life.”
This is the way of grief. We the bereaved need to tell our stories over and over—until it becomes real. Until then, we live in an unreal, twilight world of ethers…
There were so many stories from these strong Santa Rosa people. This is the first one…about a man who loved trees and the trees loved him back.
For more about the Tree Who Loved Him Back...go to the Garden blog.
on a Chaplain's life