There were two dogwood trees in my front yard as a kid, a delightful contrast to the nine, sappy pine trees scattered around. One was bifurcated at the base, but otherwise grew straight up, only small, thin branches sprouting from the top of its two trunks.
The other had broad, thick branches stretched out, starting a couple feet off the ground. Its bark was worn smooth in a handful of spots from all the times my brother and I had climbed it. It was a great tree for climbing. It didn’t take us long to find the right combination of moves to reach its top: a foot here, hand there, grab this branch, swing around here.
I loved climbing up there with my notebook and pencil in hand, scribbling thoughts and poetry as one foot dangled. It was a great place to wait for friends or just enjoy some solitude.
That tree saw a lot of life. The other one — well, it was pristine, its bark untouched. There wasn’t much we could do with that tree, so it remained undisturbed.
It’s funny to think two trees, likely planted at the same time, could be so different. One grew up straight, not a lot of branches. The other stretched out, branches reaching in all directions. They had the same soil, the same water, the same sunlight. But one became the perfect climbing tree and the other became a nice decoration.
I don’t know what it was that made the difference. There are any number of factors influencing growth. I’m not going to pretend one, in its great wisdom, chose to spread its branches. Trees don’t have a choice.
But we do.
We can grow up straight and tall, fulfill our basic functions as humans, and ensure our pristine condition. Or we can reach, stretch, experience new things, and become a refuge for others.
If you choose to be the first tree, people will acknowledge you and walk around you. You’ll be unscathed by life. If you choose the second, you’ll get scratched up. You’ll get worn down. Your branches may droop from use. But you’ll have faithful friends and a purpose all your own.
I know which tree I choose.