I spent this past weekend in London, visiting girlfriends. Roshni, a bomshell from India who is married to a British doctor. Emily, who was my flatmate and fellow American at the University of Leeds. And Nat, a British native who I’ve known for three lives and actually met way back when in Maine. All three of these women are in serious, but very different relationships. I’ve loved surrounding myself with strong and powerful women over the past few months, and this trip to London was no exception. Roshni and I drank tea and watched her wedding video. Em and I enjoyed brunch and discussed her upcoming relocation plans. And Nat and I sat in the dark corner of a pub, sipping cider and discussing Lithuanian men. I’m learning so many things, from so many bright and brilliant ladies. But they’re also inadvertently teaching me things about myself. Some of which I am sad to learn.
A year ago I would have told you that I believed in commitment. My grandparents have been married for 51 years, and on their 50th wedding anniversary, I asked my Papa, “What’s the secret? How did you make your love last for 50 years?” His response? “We didn’t give up. So many people these days walk away when things get hard. There will be days, weeks, or maybe even years where marriage is difficult. The only way to make it work, is to keep working at it. To be committed to your commitment.”
As a romantic, I was somewhat upset. I had expected to hear that my Gramma and Papa were swans. That they always clicked, that they had moved seamlessly throughout life with an abundance of love. But I accepted my Papa’s answer with respect and consideration.
In the last year of my relationship with Ben, I did everything imaginable to make us work. I felt like I was constantly walking on eggshells. Trying to avoid certain topics. I consented to life decisions I didn’t necessarily believe in, but was willing to make work out of love and devotion. I would have done anything to make Ben smile, to have him adore me again like he used to. I was utterly committed to making us work. We were engaged. He had proposed. He had held had my face, looked me in the eyes, and told me that he wanted to spend his life with me. And I had believed him with all of my heart.
And so a lesson I have learned, is that certainty is not all that certain. That we cannot predict things in life. That commitment can cease. People can change. Basically, shit can happen. I feel wise for understanding this lesson, and openly communicated it to Ro, Em, and Nat this past weekend in London. Surprisingly, each time, this sentiment was met with an uncomfortable frown. Having a few hours by myself on the journey back to Amsterdam, I questioned why this might be. And upon arriving at Schiphol airport, I burst into tears.
I’m not wise or knowledgable. And I haven’t learned a great lesson.
I have just forgotten how to trust.
I put myself in a situation where I loved blindly, completely, and was betrayed. I dreamt a life that was shattered. I committed to someone who lied about being committed to me. And now I feel cynical. I don’t know if I believe in forever. Can I allow myself to rely on someone again? Is it normal for my sense of trust to feel crippled? Maybe 51 years is an anomaly. Maybe swans aren’t real. Or maybe, I just have a long road ahead, with a lot of healing to do.
I’m going to leave you with a note on trees. Random, yes. But incredibly brilliant and loaded with insights on life, happiness, and discovering trust. It’s been a long day, but this essay has really helped assuage my doubts before bed. If a tree can stand still, never look, and yet live in trust and flower year after year, I think I can too, for every crazy unpredictable season in this life.
“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”