The Giving Tree

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You don't notice my favorite tree. Because it's unremarkable. Right up until it turns a brilliant red, makes the world a better place, and reminds us that we all have something special that isn't always obvious at first glance.
You don’t notice my favorite tree. Because it’s unremarkable. Right up until it turns a brilliant red, makes the world a better place, and reminds us that we all have something special that isn’t always obvious at first glance.

It just stands there.

Quiet, steady and stoic.

The ultimate wallflower.

I rarely notice it. It looks just like thousands of others. Millions, even.

But then the calendar turns.

And autumn’s annual pilgrimage begins once again, delivering the deft touch of Mother Nature’s paintbrush.

The Ohio countryside, her canvas.

The magnificent trees, a spectacular display of her talents.

I forget every year. The breathtaking beauty of it all. But then the sun shines just right—causing fiery reds and oranges and yellows to burst from the green.

And my favorite tree stands out from them all.

It’s neither tall nor short. Neither big nor small. Neither insignificant nor particularly noteworthy.

Not most of the time, anyway.

But then fall happens. Abscission. The death of the phoenix.

Almost every day I see this tree.

And it’s always just a tree.

Only yesterday it was more.

The sunlight danced with it, showcasing vibrant reds and purples as the green slowly concedes that winter marches forth.

Unrivaled beauty in a sea of arboreal competition.

I stopped and stared at it several times.

And that’s when it dawned on me how much that tree was like us.

Like people.

People like me.

People like you.

Just a Number

My stepdad taught me many wonderful life lessons.

He’s the man who taught me how important wisdom was. Sometimes we humans spend a lot of time focusing on intelligence, wealth, and our eternal pursuit of happiness—whatever that is—and don’t think much about being wise, perhaps at the expense of other things we want.

It’s almost never wrong to err on the side of wisdom.

But he once told me something I wasn’t wise enough to disagree with at the time.

We were discussing my college plans over dinner. He, my mother and I. I was enrolled in a small, Catholic high school. There were just 75 kids in my graduating class. Just under 400 in the entire school.

And I liked it. It’s what I knew. I liked knowing almost everyone. Having almost everyone know me.

But for college, I was thinking about bigger, public universities. My parents wanted me to go to a small, private school.

“At a big school, you’re just a number, Matt,” my stepdad said.

The implication being, it’s hard to succeed. To be somebody. To make a difference.

I only nodded, not necessarily disagreeing.

Of course it’s easier to be a big fish in a small pond.

But I don’t really care about being a big fish.

I want to be a bright light.

And one bright light can illuminate a whole bunch of darkness.

More Than Just a Number

That’s what you are. More than just a number.

And that’s what that person over there is. That person you don’t know and aren’t paying attention to. They’re someone who matters, too.

We’re not just numbers.

But we blend in, though. Just like my favorite tree.

We’re easy to miss, sometimes.

People buzz along in their cars and trucks passing this tree every day. And most of the time it looks just like the rest. Green leaves. Typical. And in the winter, no leaves at all. Hardly worth a second look.

They don’t pay attention. Why would they?

The tree just sits there, contributing silently. Doing its small part to pump oxygen into the air. To support life.

Growing. Maturing. Just a little more every day.

But still, we don’t pay attention.

The bare, leafless tree looks just like the people I pass on my morning commutes in other cars who are paying equally little attention to me.

Just another thing taking up space. In a vast sea of seemingly forgettable things.

There’s nothing remarkable about any of it most of the time.

The tree can even look sad, shrouded in the gray of winter.

But the clocks keep ticking.

The planet keeps spinning and pirouetting around the sun.

And then light. And warmth.

New life.

And like that phoenix, it rises from its own ashes, giving birth to color and beauty once again.

And it sits. Fitting in. Looking pretty, but unexceptional. Not calling attention to itself at all.

Only the tree is not unexceptional.

It’s special. And unique.

It’s perfect in its simple, everyman form.

Quiet, steady and stoic.

Waiting patiently for that next moment to shine on another exquisite, future autumn day.

Capturing our awe.

Being more than just a number.

Filling us with gratitude.

And giving us hope.

Photo courtesy of Yazhang Photography
Photo courtesy of Yazhang Photography

26 thoughts on “The Giving Tree”

    1. You’re too kind to me.

      The thing with books… You have to have something to say. People have to care. And you have to write intelligently and coherently for 250-plus pages.

      If I knew how to do that, I assure you I would be!

      Regardless. Thank you so much for your support and compliments. Seriously.

      1. Can’t believe I’m still awake, but I think you’re teasing me for using the word ‘seriously’ too often…

        Even if you are, you seriously COULD write a book. Collect some of these posts, a little editing, viola! 😛

    1. Well, I promise to try if I ever scrape together enough relevant material. Still waiting for that lightning strike of inspiration.

      Thank you so much.

  1. matt-
    every day, I scroll through “freshly pressed” blogs to read, learn and be inspired. even in that arena, your writing still stands out. thank you.

    1. You’re the sweetest. Thank you for finding me. And being you.

      I still get really nervous about a lot of this stuff.

      “Ohhh. Now he’s writing about trees. Trees are like people? What a jackass.”

      What I’m trying to do is train myself not to care. One day at a time. But these, kind, supportive comments encourage me. Make me feel just slightly less terrified.

      Thank you so much.

  2. We have a tree like that…it’s the only one on the block that turns a beautiful brilliant red. It strikes me ever time I drive down my street and see it calling me home. I think it says something about me as well…
    Great post Matt.

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Matt Fray

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