“The most extraordinary thing about the oyster is this: Irritations gets into its shell. He does not like the irritations. But when he cannot remove them, he uses those irritations to do the loveliest thing an oyster ever has a chance to do. If there are irritations in your life today, there is but one prescription: make a pearl!”
~ Harry Emerson Fosdick
Visiting your childhood town can evoke wonderful memories. It can cause you to reflect and take inventory of your life. As many of you know, I am on a trip across several States. During part of this journey I teamed up with two of my sisters to take a trip down memory lane. We visited our childhood house. Although our family home is now run-down, and it certainly didn’t seem as big as I once remembered, our memories remained large.
Just driving down Chestnut Street, those memories surged forth as fresh and real as the day they were made. As my sisters gleefully shared their memories I couldn’t help but quietly remember my neighbor Mary Heinzleman. She was just a little old woman when we lived next to her but she seemed to have a very wise soul.
She had the patience of a saint living next to our chaos. She lived alone and seemed perfectly contented with that choice. Our noise and constant action never seemed to bother her. We were a band of seven kids ranging from toddler to teen. Then there was the often visiting relative, neighbor, etc. that only added to the commotion. This mass of people, noise and motion never seemed to unnerve her. She remained calm and seemed as if she had life’s answers. Her conversations with me would often end in me scratching my head unsure of what she was really telling me. I knew there was an important lesson in her words but I was too young to understand.
This recent visit settled a long questioned lesson she tried to teach me. Even though she has long since passed, her pear tree in the back yard that she had planted reminded me of the lesson.
I remember well the day she planted it. It was just a sapling, maybe four feet tall. She carefully pick the spot she wanted, then simply dug a small hole in the ground with her little hand held spade. She then plopped the baby tree in the hole and pushed the dirt back in around it. She sprinkled a little water around the trunk. After that, I don’t recall her ever watering it again. She certainly never tied a string to it to guide its growth. No fertilizer was ever used on her tree. In fact, other than showing admiration and faith in that tree, I don’t believe she did anything else to it.
My brother and I planted radishes and strawberries around the same time that year. We did water them, tended to them daily, and spent a great deal of time coddling our newborns. We followed the conventional wisdom that said “Time and effort will always yield great results.” Meanwhile, Mary Heinzleman followed more of an old school approach of “No pain, no gain.”
My brother and I certainly believed we were right using all the latest methods and suggestions. Mary Henzleman, on the other hand would just smile at us as we labored over our babies. I remember asking her why she won’t water her tree. She replied, “Watering a plant or tree that is outside will only spoil it, it will make it have shallow roots. The tree will never go in search of what it needs.” She told me this pear tree of hers was going to be the patriarch of other pear trees and that it will outlive her by decades. She said that she wouldn’t be around to water it or its offspring so it must learn to face adversity and learn the ways to overcome it. Only then could she be assured its offspring would be strong and hearty. She said, “Less watering from me means stronger roots for it.”
I hadn’t a clue what she meant; in fact I thought it was a little callus of her. I did gather that she believed stronger roots were something to be valued. This recent trip back to the old neighborhood and seeing that healthy pear tree that still looms over Mary Heinzleman’s back yard made her philosophy clear to me.
When trees need to go in search of nourishment they tend to grow longer, deeper roots. Those roots make for healthier trees. Healthier trees can better withstand adversity. As I sat in her backyard admiring her tree and remembering how my brother and I never were able to grow a single thing despite all of our coddling and attention, I realized the real lesson Mary Heinzleman was trying to teach me.
Adversity builds strength. It causes us to have to go in search of what we need. It makes for longer, stronger roots which make for heartier people. How many times have we prayed for a simpler life? How often do we wish for someone to just come and coddle us? How many hours do we waste waiting for someone to come water us instead of going and finding the water ourselves?
After visiting with Mary’s pear tree, I have decided to change my prayers, my wishes. I am finally going to embrace the lessons from 245 Chestnut Street and begin praying for stronger, deeper roots. I will now see adversity as the best way to develop my fruits.
Through deep roots, obtain only through searching myself for my nourishment, I will be assured to not be swept asunder by the first storm.
My prayer for you is also similar: Because life is hard, whether we want it or acknowledge it to be, I am going to pray you too develop strong, deep roots so that you may draw strength from the hidden source within you just as Mary’s pear tree has be doing for 40 years now. Adversity makes us stronger and it makes our offspring better prepared.
Author: Stephen budd
I have written three articles so far on this trip. I will try to post them soon.