James H. Smith

OLD MAN AND A TREE

The day was cold as an old man sits at rest under a large tree when he was born his Father planted it here, a forever friend. Now grown older, the tree in its prime the man past, the tree always strong and tall in any storm; the man a simple man, a man of war, a man of peace, just a man remembering a life, now most past.

The tree stands silently by and remembers when the old man, then a boy would climb and sit in its branches, dreaming out loud of all the things life and the world would bring. Not a breeze blows still the leaves on the tree tremble as it remembers a young man coming home from a war, no longer able to climb its limbs; returning neither with smiles nor laughter, but with eyes old much beyond their years
so the tree lowers a limb to brush the old man’s cheek.

The old man smiles, but a sad tear falls as he remembers, again speaking out loud returning, returning from war to what, what was lost, what was found. What was to be found, Innocents? That, if only I could then have remembered the meaning of the word, remembered a time to laugh, smile without purpose or gain as a child free, to be as an old one with only beautiful memories for company. I remembered the feeling to accept, to care, to love without reason, to hold out a hand, offer a smile or a kind word. Asking no gain, doing simply because someone there was of need that was before, I learned to walk with death, laugh in joy at another’s defeat.

To lay death at another’s door, stealing with death their love by, and for family living only to survive, not with love, but with a hundred ghosts as my companions mocking me each night as I try in vain to sleep. A heart dark, a soul weary of my load, looking only to survive, hiding within my own fear, writing my words of darkness, afraid to show feeling, afraid to care, finding nowhere to give. So I looked around, all I could find were others like I had become. I was my own creation, an empty shell, an empty ghost of my own making.

Wait! I had only become what others asked of me. I had gone and done as they asked, spoke as they thought and acted as they. So why was I not happy? Are they, these people who only ask, empty friends; empty people wanting only to receive – never to give, to take, never to love

So I found myself filled with the bitter cold steel of regret for what is lost, for the darkness I had become. Hard cold steel of reality laid heavy, cold against my soul, and darkness surrounds. Then a light, a light so precious, holding out a hand with innocents and a smile, offering nothing, but giving everything, permission for me to be me, permission to speak my words, permission to care, permission simply to be me. Best of all permission to love, to care, to do, not expecting, not wanting gain now!

I may find my heart, I may talk with my soul, and I may speak my own words. With the speaking may they help, make happy or fill a heart with love, though I know not who shall hear my words.

May my words bring them closer to those to whom they belong and care? Should my words bring a tear, may they be of happiness or loving remembrance. My responsibility is great, for once spoken, words float, drifting forever upon the winds, coming back to you time and again in whatever form they may take, my prayer they be of love.

If someone should offer you the chance to be you, to again find innocents, take it, you could not ask for, nor receive more. How could you? They have given you everything.

The tree listens as the old man remembers and spreads its branches before the sun now a single ray of sunlight reaches down and warms the old man. The tree thinks to itself, I was wrong, I thought an old man had returned to sit on my roots but I see within the old body before me, a boy has at last found his way home this day.