I’ve been playing with ways to express this idea all week. Sometime in the middle of this night, this story took shape in my head. I hope you enjoy my foray into a writing style I seldom use, but really enjoy!
A young squire let his steed clop up the road to the manor at a snail’s pace. He was returning to face his master, his mentor, his friend after a year long quest: one in which he had utterly failed. His mind drifted in and out of the last conversation he had had within those stone walls. It was a final assignment.
“You’re nearly there my young companion” the master had proclaimed, “You have but one quest to complete and then I will welcome you as a member of my court, as my equal.”
Visions of grandeur immediately filled his ambitious soul. Retrieve stolen gold? Save a village from marauders? A damsel in distress? “Please let there be a damsel” he muttered under his breath, but louder than he intended.
Then came the order. “Find me a forest.”
“But Sire, we have forests all around us. We live, work and play in them every day.”
“Yes, but I need you to seek out the grandest, most noble forest in our land.”
“Would you like me to fell you a tree from this forest? Or seize it as part of your realm?”
“No. Leave it as you find it. I only desire word of it, to know that it exists.”
The boy, who so recently believed he would soon be a man, pushed through the heavy oak door into the main chamber of the palatial home. The master of the house set down his wine and pushed aside his business to give his full attention to welcoming the traveler home.
“Tell, me son. Tell me of the forest.”
“I’ve found no forest, master.” As the words left his lips, he resigned himself to the life of a servant, any fantasy of nobility having been dashed by this daunting confession.
“I’ve been to the four corners of our territory. I’ve visited other lands to see and explore their resources. I’ve spoken with soothes and seers, farmers and herders, pagans and preachers. Yet, in all my wanderings and wonderments, I’ve not found anything approaching a stand of the nobility you seek.”
The noble gentleman looked perplexed and began to interrogate the tired wanderer.
“Did you not see a great Redwood to our west?”
“Yes! Its trunk was as broad as a stallion. I spoke at length with a great Chief of a local tribe. He told me of the great myths surrounding the tree and its significance to his people. I count the chief as my friend even still.”
“Did you see a magnolia as it bloomed to our south?”
“Yes, I saw a beautiful tree. A wise, elderly woman was sitting beneath its white blossoms watching her children’s children as they played. We spoke of love and loss, peace and war, as only a grandmother could see these things. I have marked the place on my charts should I ever need to seek her wisdom and insight.”
“Did you not find a towering oak on our eastern border?”
“Of course; an old, beautiful specimen. The was a logger who took a liking to me and showed me how to navigate the rivers and passes of the region. He showed me his skill in building and his art in carving. Had I ever been ready to build a palace of my own, it would have been he that I called on to carve the gargoyles who would guard its gates.”
“And to the North, what did you find there?”
“I found maples whose very hearts were filled with sweetness. I spent a week with the children of those valleys moving from tree to tree, tapping into the trunks and filling buckets. When there were too many buckets, too heavy for the young ones’ growing muscles, I pulled their cart by hand myself.”
“Very well,” said the master with a gleam of pride in his eye, “tonight you will dine at my right hand and tomorrow we will officially welcome you to your new station.”
“But Sire, I never found the noble forest!” The former squire protested.
The elder put his hand on the shoulder of his rising star, pulled him close and whispered in his ear so only they could hear. “You made two assumptions when you set out on your journey. First that the forest was an entire gathering you would see all at once and not the sum of all the individual trees you have discovered. Second, that we were ever looking for trees in the first place.”
I’ve met so many people on a journey similar to mine: looking for joy and peace in our lives. We seem to be under the delusion that these are found in perpetuation, as a complete, uninterrupted state of mind as opposed to a collection of moments, people, and experiences that gather in our brains.
A few months ago, I noticed that I would often write in my journal or say to a friend,
“That made my heart smile.”
Even in the throes of depression and anxiety, I was able to find moments, be they ever so small, that would cause my heart to smile. The heart, the one that feels and loves and hurts, is much like the one sitting in sitting in our chest that pumps life giving blood to our bodies. It is a muscle that needs to be cared for and exercised. Those moments when we see a beautiful sunset, get an unexpected hug or compliment, or just realize we survived another day are the models we use to build that muscle. They are the moments we hang on to, pull back to the surface and let linger there while we recondition our emotional responses to life as it happens.
Those moments are the trees and the people who care for them. As we focus on them, the forests of Joy and Peace will emerge from deep inside us.