Peace, Darkness and the Tree

She was waiting for me patiently, like always, when I stopped by to say “hello” to her the other day. She was quite a bit taller than the last time I had seen her a few months ago. The summer sun must have been good to her, as had the autumn rains. Only one wrinkled leaf still clung somewhat uncertainly to a thin twig located mid-way up her trunk.

I reached out to touch it ever so gently with my open hand. To my surprise, it crumbled away and fell to the ground below. I followed its descent to the earth a few feet below. And right there I placed my offering to her, this magical and so very special tree…the true peace tree of Keene.

As this holy time of year approaches for people of many faiths and beliefs, we instinctively draw towards the light of candles and flame to help us navigate through the darkness within and without. Daytime is short, nighttime so very long.

We are being tested. Can we believe in the light when it is so dark?

The obsidian mirror – Tezcatlipoca – was the first of the four children born to the originating male and female energies that gave birth to life on planet Earth, this realm of duality in the Toltec origin story. The darkness was the first-born, since it is only by looking into the dark mirror that we can see our true essence…beyond surface appearances.

Back to the peace tree of Keene. If you have not read two earlier articles I have written about her, let me tell you her story ever so briefly. She is a liberty elm, kindly donated by the Liberty elm organization located here in Keene. She was the very smallest of elms when we received her for a peace conference being held at Keene State College several years ago now.

She became the centerpiece of a peace ceremony that was beautifully enacted prior to the start of the conference. She was drummed to and blessed effusively. Then many people lined up and one by one offered her a drop of water and well wishes.  We tried to infuse her with peace – for her, for us and for the world.

She resided in my back yard for nine months, her roots still wrapped in burlap, until the right home was found for her. Every day I watched over her. We placed aluminum foil around her trunk, to keep the insects away in the hot summer months. That summer she didn’t sprout many leaves. I worried about her.

And then she was planted with fanfare at the newly created North Street Park. In she went, with songs of peace and a shovel full of dirt from the mayor. A sign indicated her presence on the plot of land. Time passed. She grew slowly, but well.

She seemed to be enjoying her new home, her permanent home, when it happened. One day she was chopped down, her smooth trunk (which was not more than a few inches across) cut across. Severed from the roots.

Several of us cried over the apparent death of our peace tree. What did this mean for peace in our community and the world? Why would someone have wanted to hurt her?

Some detective work revealed that she had been mistakenly been cut down by a lawn mower. Apparently no one had noticed her, or at least had not paid her much attention.

Apologizes were offered, a new and taller liberty elm planted in her place. And the tale should have ended here, except it did not. One person suggested we try replanting the ‘real’ peace tree on a nearby spot. “She might live, after all,” he suggested. “She is a liberty elm, after all.”

And so we did.

She looked so odd at first, since she barely had a trunk to speak of. She was all branches, twisted and scarred close to the ground. I doubted she would survive the impending winter.

The following spring, she budded a few leaves. Still, she looked pretty weak. She was definitely not a normal looking elm. And yet in the summer she was still there, and through to Fall as well. Another winter and she looked even stronger, more solid and secure.

Now several years have passed. Her scars have all been healed, and she now boasts a pretty good looking trunk that is surprisingly smooth and straight, considering how she began. In fact, she has almost caught up in height to the other liberty elm, which two years ago towered above her.

“Thank you” I whisper to my friend the peace tree her. “Thank you for surviving, for giving us hope, for your little miracle.”

She is a miracle for me – a reminder that when times seem bleak, when what we believe in seems to be eclipsed in the darkness, it does not necessarily mean the end. It might just mean that we need to keep believing in and working for its rebirth.

This is what the obsidian mirror can show us, about ourselves and the world. Beyond the surface appearance of what appears to be real lies so very much that we can never explain or truly understand. And it is here were the great mystery of life and death and rebirth (both literally and metaphorically) happens.

I like to think that it was all of our offerings of water and intentions for peace and good-will that helped to nourish that little seedling through its ordeal. That is was our love for it that gave it the strength to keep surviving despite the odds.

I know I can’t prove this, it may not be true. Yet if it is (and even if it is not), this is a reminder to us all of the power we can and do have to create peace and good will through our own heart-felt offerings. These are the true gifts that we can give and receive this holiday season.

Wishing you and your loved ones light and love, as well as strength and courage. As a well-known Latin American peace activist Jose Zalaquet once told me in an interview, “Real peace is not the peace of the graveyard. It is the peace of hard work and belief against all odds that peace is possible.”


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