I love how this tree looks at sunset. I’ve been trying to time my commute past it for a long time, to catch the sun bringing out both the life and the death in it. Something about this tree has stirred me for months. It’s divided in a way, showing life and growth as well as death and dying. And as I age, I see the risk of this kind of division in my life. There are parts of me that seem alive and growing, and there are parts of me that look more like dying. Like death. And even though it may not be as obvious in my life as it is in this old oak tree, it is there all the same.
One hint telling us that we might just be at risk for the dead branch syndrome, comes when these two words leave our mouths; “I know.” Because I think we all start to die a little when we say, “I know” very often. When my kids say it to me. When my clients say it to me. When I say it to someone, anyone who might be trying to pass some knowledge or wisdom along to me.
In his book entitled, Humilitas, John Dickson says this; “..Chesterton argued that human pride is in fact the engine of mediocrity. It fools us into believing that we have “arrived,” that we are complete, that there is little else to learn. Humility, by contrast,…reminds us that we are small and incomplete and so urges us on toward the heights of artistic, scientific and societal endeavor.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about Chesterton’s few, but powerfully descriptive words; Human pride is in fact the engine of mediocrity. And I’ve been thinking about this old oak tree along Highway 9 in north Iowa. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not quite ready to have that big of a dead spot in the middle of my life. I don’t want any sort of pride from what I’ve already learned or accomplished or experienced to drive me into a state of not taking any more in. Of not letting any more out. I want to wrestle with what it means to be urged “toward the heights of artistic, scientific and societal endeavor” in my life. Right here. Right now. To be a little more childlike when it comes to looking at life with wonder. With a sense of optimism and expectation. In the words of Anne Lamott, “I was once again the world’s oldest toddler.” There is still much to learn and experience in our lives. There is much to offer. And that will likely not happen when we face life with our arms crossed and lips dripping with the words, “I know.”