All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 4:15
At last month’s Harvest Festival at Cranaleith, four women from the neighborhood stand in front of the small table where we are giving away for free a few hundred of the native trees and shrubs remaining from the 2500 trees that had already been distributed as part of our partnership with the Keystone 10 Million Tree Partnership initiative. Recent immigrants to Somerton, the women speak no English, only Russian. We laugh together at my limited language skills as I type words and phrases into Google Translate: “free,” “native trees,” “heal the wounded earth.” They are delighted to select varieties with fruit: American Plum / Слива американская; Chokeberry / Черноплодная рябина.
A few weeks later, I attend Reverend Alison Cornish’s program on “Grieving and Healing: Practices of Lament for our Wounded Planet.” Alison moves us through the reflective process: from experience, to reflection, connection, to imagining how we can act together in the world moving forward. I share with the men and women enrolled in the session the sound I had heard just the day before: the thundering crash of the 100-year-old black walnut tree that fell—unexpectedly—in the woods near my house, blocking the road, tangling the power lines. That morning, members of the road crew sawed it into pieces–the Spanish directives for “watch out- “- “cuidadoso” and “Cuidado”—ringing loudly in the quiet.
When Alison invites us to find a place of solitude to contemplate the meaning of the words of a selected poem, I choose to sit alone on the hard, slightly wobbly bench located on the 2nd floor lobby of the Conference Center. I whisper the words of Susanne Moser’s poem–“extinction crisis.” “In this world/ where beauty / and blindness / live side by side / as staggering witnesses to our day-to-day lives…” Taking a small break from trying to understand the meaning of those lines, I glance at a sign on the back of the bench and gasp softly in surprise.
“You are Sitting on a Piece of History,” the plaque states, “This bench is from the original Episcopal Hospital at Front & Lehigh, opened in 1834… Built in the 1850s, this bench was used during the Civil War to bed incoming casualties when numbers were high in nearby battles.”
I am sitting on the same wooden bench as those wounded and dying men and all of it suddenly comes together: The suffering of the Civil War layered with the violence in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, amplified by the sound of my crashing, dying tree—all sitting side-by-side with the hope of volunteers distributing and planting millions of native trees, the laughter of strangers who are neighbors, stories of climate grief shared with new acquaintances gathered in a room for a Saturday morning program. All of it, together, “beauty and blindness, side-by-side… “
The last lines of Moser’s poem are these: “you need a fluid heart…you need to learn how to flow between ecstasy and grief….so as to go on and do the one thing that needs to be done. To give life the one chance it wants for itself: to go on.”
Here, at Cranaleith, we listen for the language of wholeness and hope as we search for the trees that fruit. Together, we listen to find our fluid heart as we “flow between ecstasy and grief.” Together? We give life the chance to go on. Join us.
Dawn L. Hayward