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Hope

Hope is important. Life is nothing without hope.

It’s been a tough few weeks. Health worries about loved ones, sudden deaths of good friends, and headlines that are almost unbearable to read. Some days the weight of it seems like too much, and there’s no one to complain to, because everyone is carrying the same sort of load.

But then there’s that maple tree.

The last few ash trees planted by my great-grandfather are hanging on by a thread. After a century or so I guess that’s not unexpected. Out in the grove, I rely on the squirrels to replant black walnut and maple trees, but around the perimeter of the yard we’re looking for a little bit more structured effect.

Along the south edge of our driveway, two trees died and another one is showing some deep rot around a broken branch. In an effort to be preemptive about summertime shade, we planted two maple trees - some fancy type not often seen around here. They came in a box, covered with leaves and about five feet tall.

I planted them very carefully, because I was a little shocked at how much money I’d spent. I did everything right – dug a ginormous hole, added potting soil, water, fertilizer. I’ve planted twenty acres of soybeans in less time than it took me to plant those two trees.

One of them died.

Really – came out of the box covered in green leaves and four days after I planted it, the leaves started to turn brown and dry up. The other tree was fine, but I always like to emphasize my failures, and this particular failure was three feet from my left elbow every time I walked to the garage.

Now, this was not the worst thing in my world. It doesn’t even make the list, but it was an irritant, like a speck of dust in the corner of my eye. Every week when I made out my mental to-do list, jerking that thing out by its no-doubt decaying roots was always on it. But, it’s a long list and I never got to it.

Then one day I glanced to the left and saw a little glimmer of green. In a matter of days, one of the branches had a dozen shiny green leaves.

I don't understand it and barely believe it's happening. Who knows what's going to happen with it the rest of the summer or over the winter, but right now, it's a timely lesson.

It's hard to live without hope. Even if you keep breathing in and out, without hope in your life it's not really living, it's just existing. There have been times in my life when I've felt helpless and hapless. It's a tough feeling and can be a long road back. One of the virtues of advancing age is that you've had bad times, and you know you can get through them.

I've always been captivated by the Outward Bound concept. In case it’s not familiar, it's a series of camps that take young people and put them in challenging situations – alone in the woods, whitewater rafting, rock climbing and others - with the intent of showing them that they can do more than they think they can. Its roots go back to a study that took place during WWII, when so many ships were being torpedoed in the North Atlantic. The study showed that most of the survivors weren't the youngest and strongest, but instead the more seasoned sailors, some of them being downright old, who held on to a bit of floating wreckage long enough to be rescued. The conclusion was that if you've been around for a while, you've learned that you can always hang on just a little bit longer, try just a little bit harder, and survive where others might not.

I don't know what's going to happen to the maple tree, and I don't know what's going to happen to me, my family, friends or for that matter, the world. What I do know is that amazing things sometimes happen, and sometimes it's just a matter of hanging on long enough.

Hope matters. It matters a lot.

Copyright 2023 Brent Olson

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