The Crabapple Tree

from Instagram, which is where you’ll find most of my (briefer) thoughts these days…

This tree is supposed to be dead. 

Two years ago, Y called an arborist to come look at the two young trees in our garden. I wasn’t at home for the visit, but I read the report afterward: 

“1. Tree lilac has an old wound that is closing nicely. Bark is starting to form at base. TREE IS OK.

2. The CRABAPPLE IS COMPLETELY GIRDLED BY FIREBLIGHT CANKER, IT WILL NOT SURVIVE THE SUMMER. ENJOY THE FLOWERS!” 

Surely no plant ever had a more emphatic fatal prognosis. The crabapple did give a spectacular display of blooms that year for the first time, and with some sadness we in the house noted to each other — for trees are considered friends in this place — that it was making a splendid farewell. 

But it was the lilac that died that year instead, its blooms blackening under the withering touch of disease like a curl of paper consumed from its edges by fire. In 2020, the crabapple put out a few buds that did not survive the spring snows. This year, still standing, it has extended a loveliness that only seems suitable for me to approach on tiptoe. 

Author Brian Doyle left behind a story whose last lines resound through my inner ear at times. In it he tells of his twin sons, one healthy, one sick — so sick it has nearly killed the father to watch his pain — and of the conversations he has had with God from this position. Through them, he is reminded that God has given him these children, and that God writes death on all hearts, just as He writes life. 

“This is where our conversation always ends, and I am left holding the extraordinary awful perfect prayer of my second son, who snores like a seal, who might die tomorrow, who did not die today.”

I can never think of this without feeling a twist in my heart at the fragility and the mercy implicit in each hour of our lives. In a world where a distracted driver or a silent blood clot or an ill-timed fall might ring in our last breath, you and I somehow awakened this morning — to this day.

And this crabapple tree, which may well still be dying but hasn’t yet given up the ghost, stands in our garden as a monument to the limits of human assessment… as if to say, “Go on, no matter what statistics and chronic pain and gray thoughts may have to say about your tomorrow. Take up this gift; draw it up through your veins and make it flourish in every way you can, for though dying in a dying world, you are in the keeping of a God ‘who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist’ (Rom. 4:17). This is His authorial mark, after all. And this — ah, this is merely the beginning.” 

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2019

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