Our grand kids who are seven, four and two came visiting with us recently. It was a typical hot, muggy summer day suited to keeping young minds and bodies busy with water-splashing activities on the lawn. A tad too hot in the direct sun, it was comfortable under the cool shade of our ever-obliging maple tree. During the twenty-two plus years that we have lived here, it has continued to grow and extend its canopy unreservedly to lovingly comfort anyone who seeks its sanctuary. Last year, we even had a family of bunnies who had burrowed under its roots and annoyed my wife as they would eat up the tendrils from any flowers that she planted!
My mentor, late Professor Singh would frequently tell me, “Puttar, vrikh sant hondey nay (Son, trees are (like) saints). They stand alone patiently, and in complete silence observe all that is happening around them. Trees do not judge, treating everyone alike by extending their cool and comforting shade to all who choose to stay a while and rest. Storms test their resolve and while the winds might sway them, they stand firm. They carry memories of times long gone by. Try sometime, to stop and touch the trunk of a tree; you will start to experience the energy they are able to pass on ….” And long after Professor Singh’s passing on, a dear friend provided me with a wonderful book published last year – The Hidden Life of Trees, that scientifically shows how trees communicate with and care for each other, like members of an extended family. But, I digress.
The grand kids wanted to take turns, egging their grandfather on to lift them up so that they could hold and swing from the lowest branch of the maple before letting go to land on the grass. “Not fair, nana (grandfather), protested four years old J, “S had three turns but I only got one!” I had strung up the garden hose across a few low-hanging branches and the kids screamed excitedly each time they ran under the fine water mist. The youngest of the lot, two years old R was having a lot of fun lapping up everyone’s adulation. He was the de-facto conductor orchestrating every one else’s movements; using his limited but increasing-each-day vocabulary trove, he instructed the older cousins, “S, get on the grass, so fast; J, water on leaves; so much mist; want to touch birdie in house” etc. Much fun was had by all. A cottontail was spotted in the neighbor’s garden across the street and the kids watched, mesmerized for an instant; then they took off with the oldest seven years old S leading the pack to try and “touch the bunny”. Observing and participating in these activities, I wondered what joy could anyone derive from going on a cruise or an all-inclusive resort holiday that would beat such fun!
All too soon, it was time for the kids to go back home to their parents. My wife and I pulled out our folding chairs from the garage and stayed a while under the tree chatting pleasantly about the kids’ antics, until dusk descended. Much later after retiring for the night, I could not help but dwell on the day’s activities and the pleasure I had derived from my young company. But sleep would still not come to me in spite of counting all the sheep that I could. I remained wide awake, pondering long over a theoretical poser that emerged from some dark corner of my mind.
If I had been a Border Services officer south of the border, would I be able to go to work after a fun-filled evening with my kids, to snatch a wailing toddler from her mother’s arms? Would I return the next day and the following day to continue doing this? Or, after a full day of such activities could I shut out all my work and return home to my kids welcoming me back, throwing their arms around my neck? Would I be able to treat this as “just a normal day’s job” to put food on the table for my own kids? At what cost to another’s family? I recalled how, as a new parent almost four decades ago, we would jump out of bed at the mere whimpering sound of our baby sleeping in the next room; I wondered now, what could possibly give any parent the type of resolve needed to shut out the cries of a young child or the anguished pleas of its guardian?
It is not easy being a tree that stands alone silently, tolerant and a mere witness. Try sleeping on this tonight.
Urdu poet Izhar Warsi cautions us:
“Havā hai tez sambhālegā in meñ kitnoñ ko
shajar kā hausla patte shajar ke dekhte haiñ”
[The wind is strong, how many will you support/back up
Its leaves (are able to) discern the courage of the tree]