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Books, Willow Trees, and Heaven

Books, Willow Trees, and Heaven

Books take me to other places, some of which feel familiar in one way or another. Just now, I read about a pair of men standing in the snow in a cozy little town with houses built of a variety of material: wood, brick, and stone, all scattered in a circle about a small park with a pond big enough for a hockey game and three large pine trees. Ok, I’m reading one of Louise Penny’s novels about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and set in the town of Three Pines.* Penny masterful writes good plots, believable (and often loveable) characters, all about a wonderful town that I’d love to live in. It is, of course, imaginary, darn it.

Somehow, reading about the Three Pines made me think of the trees we had in our yard growing up. We had a very tall elm, several crepe myrtles, and a couple of others I do not know the names of. My favorite tree was the big weeping willow in the corner of the front yard that I could see from my bedroom window. I loved that tree so very much. It was a combination of playhouse, retreat, and source of craft material for things like crowns, bracelets, hula skirts, and buggy whips. I loved the way the long branches grew arching branches that swept nearly to the ground. The thin branches swayed in the wind, and it was like watching a ballet of dancers with long green leaves sweeping along as the breeze (or the stronger winds) directed them.

I remember the night a hurricane blew close enough to our town to do considerable damage to vegetation around town. Leaves, small branches, and occasional blowing debris cluttered yards, roofs got their share of wind damage and loose shingles. My beautiful willow lay on its side, with roots exposed to the air and its trunk crushing the fence and completely blocking the lower end of our street. I was inconsolable. Today, I can still remember seeing those exposed roots as much as I can the tree as it stood properly, shading that part of the yard. Had it blown down in the opposite direction, it would have fallen on my bedroom and very probably hurt me very badly, physically as well as emotionally.

I like books because they can take me to other places, some of which seem familiar in one way or another. A few minutes ago, I read about a pair of men standing in the snow in a tiny but cozy town, with houses made of varying materials of wood, brick, or stone, and scattered somewhat randomly in a circle around a small park featuring a pond big enough for a hockey game and three large pine trees. Ok, I’m reading one of Louise Penny’s novels about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and set partly in the town of Three Pines. Penny is a masterful writer, with good plots, believable (and often loveable) characters, and a wonderful little town that I’d love to find and live in. However, it is itself imaginary, darn it.

Somehow, reading about Three Pines made me think of the trees we had in our yard when I was growing up. We had a very tall elm, several crepe myrtles, and a couple of other big trees I didn’t know the name of. My favorite, though, was the big weeping willow in the corner of the front yard and that I could see from my bedroom window. I loved that tree so very much. It was a combination of playhouse, retreat, and source of craft material for things like crowns, bracelets, hula skirts, and buggy whips. I loved the way their long arching branches swept nearly to the ground. The thin branches swayed in the wind, and it was like watching a ballet of dancers with long green leaves sweeping along as the breeze (or the stronger winds) directed them.

I remember the night a hurricane blew close enough to our town to do considerable damage to vegetation around town. Leaves, small branches, and occasional blowing debris cluttered yards, roofs got their share of wind damage and loose shingles. My beautiful willow lay on its side, with roots exposed to the air and its trunk crushing the fence and completely blocking the lower end of our street. I was inconsolable. Today, I can still remember seeing those exposed roots as much as I can the tree as it stood properly, shading that part of the yard. Had it blown down in the opposite direction, it would have fallen on my bedroom and very probably hurt me both physically and emotionally.

It occurred to me that I felt grief when I awoke that morning and saw my friend dying and waiting to be cut up by the cleanup crew and hauled away they could open the road. It was a feeling of disruption, loss of something precious, and a signal of change that was strange and unsettling in the eyes of a child. Mostly I remembered how beautiful it was and how much I would miss it. The world would never be quite the same again.

I had grown up in a large extended family of older folks, so I was no stranger to an aunt or uncle “going to be with Jesus” every year. It was an opportunity to see all my favorite relatives at one event instead of visiting them individually every few Sundays in rotation. I would miss the one who was being buried, but there were so many living ones to enjoy, even if I were only four or five or six. I knew death meant I wouldn’t see them again until I died and went to be with Jesus myself and had a large group of relatives waiting for me at the Golden Gate. Still, I never learned that favorite things, like pets or trees, would be with those relatives.

I could never have articulated the difference between Christian souls and those without faith. I knew people who weren’t “Christian” in the same way my church taught, the ones who would go to hell because they didn’t “know” Jesus.  But the idea of dogs, cats, trees, rocks, or rivers and creeks going to be familiar again in Heaven never occurred to me. It seems they didn’t have souls, and besides, Heaven would be so much more glorious than anything earth could produce. We’d be so busy praising God that we wouldn’t think about things we’d left behind – or that had left us.

Maybe it is fanciful, but I wonder from time to time what Heaven might be like. Oh, I know the Bible talks about many mansions, streets paved with gold, and such, but I don’t want a mansion. Am I sacrilegious to ask for a room large enough for some books, cats, plants, and not far from woods with familiar trees and maybe a willow tree outside my window?  It would be a place where our dog during my childhood, Bitsy, would lay down comfortably with all the cats I’ve had and loved, the windows would have prisms that scattered rainbows all over, and comfortable chairs to sit and entertain (and be entertained by) friends I’ve missed for so long? I’ll happily sing God’s praises in chant, Baroque polyphony, and familiar hymns. Still, I’d also hope there would be a saltwater river nearby with waves lapping on the sand to walk in and think or pray or both.

“God, if wishes count, could my willow tree be there too? And maybe the pine tree overlooking my river where You and I met so often when I was an adolescent? Oh, and could there be a village like Three Pines with warm and friendly people, a sense of history, and a little Anglican church, for meditation and occasional concerts? By the way, I’d love to have about half the town I grew up in as neighbors as well? I hope that what I believe is really true, that hell will be empty, and all that I loved would be in Heaven. I don’t think it would genuinely be Heaven without them, human, animal, deciduous, evergreen, and all.

Thank you for listening, God.

* Penny, Louise, How the Light Gets In, (2013), St. Martin’s Press, New York. Kindle Edition.

Image: Bloedel Reserve Willow Tree, Bainbridge WA, Japanese Garden, Photographer Geaugagrrl, March 2008, public domain. Found at Wikimedia Commons.

Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.

 

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Rick Millsap

Thank you for this, Linda! It seems similar to what I would imagine having to be. The best I’ve ever been able to explain to others is that it is a place outside of all places, and a time outside of time, where we meet and everything gets fixed. I have no idea how, but I believe in it.

Last edited 9 days ago by Rick Millsap
Ann Stevenson

Oh, I love Louise Penny, Three Pines, and all the unique characters she has created! I, too, think of Heaven as a place where I will be reunited with friends and family who have gone before. Thanks for your reflections and memories.

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