tree of life

The nuns taught us there are two ways through life—
the way of nature ...
and the way of grace.
You have to choose which one you’ll follow.
Grace doesn’t try to please itself.
Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked.
Accepts insults and injuries.
Nature only wants to please itself.
Get others to please it too.
Likes to lord it over them.
To have its own way.
It finds reasons to be unhappy ...
when all the world is shining around it ...
when love is smiling through all things.
They taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ...
ever comes to a bad end.

—Spoken by a mother grieving the death of her son, from the film The Tree of Life, by Terrence Malick

To me, Grace and nature are one in the same—no way to separate them. Nature’s universe encompasses all—the rocks, the rivers, the forests and deserts, birds, animals, fish, earthquakes, tsunamis, tempests, light, energy, the clouds, stars, planets, galaxies, black holes and supernovas. Nature does not discriminate between the healthy and the sick, the good and the bad, the wealthy and the poor, the devout and the secular.

Mindful of that, I can accept my precious boy who, through nature's indifference, became less of what he could have been yet more of what he is: loving, seemingly cognizant of little, living in the moment, wordless, wanting only essentials, simple, pure, changing with the passing of time, yet not changing at all. Like a tree whose limbs are beautifully twisted and gnarled by ages of drought, freezing and the peril of storms, covered in soft lichen as if jade lace stitched onto a taffeta gown, Calvin’s beauty is one of a kind, touching, timeless, makes me tremble at times.

And if I must one day see him go first, if his time here will be only fleeting, I can feel at peace knowing he’s returned to that from which he came—the earth, the sky, the moon—and I’ll carry him around as I had once before, as if he is my heart's inner star and soul's universe, and just as much as he is now, he’ll continue to grow inside me like a little tree of life.

Photo by Michael Kolster


  1. Your words and imagery brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, as always, for sharing and reminding me of the beauty.