Today I strolled out to the open grass between our base gym’s track and the four co-located baseball fields. I visited places where my wife and I spent hours when we were dating, and the widespaces I went to on my own when I wanted to be alone and think about life, and God, and myself, and maybe just watch the stars.
The bridge is gone. It has been for years now, in fact. But there used to be a patch of lighter concrete where you could see its absence. Even that is gone now, the whole drainage ditch a uniform moldy-looking shade of dark grey.
Buildings are long gone that once marked the start of our relationship: a solitary dormitory where one of our mutual friends lived on the opposite end of the fields, and the H-style dorms where Jami and I first met, torn down and replaced with better, newer, four story facilities. The hills look roughly the same, places where we laid in the grass on the slopes and watched the clouds or stars, depending on our shift schedules. The stone bench I’m sitting on, under a tangled mess of trees, still stands and sees occasional use, judging by the trash left beside it.
Me from twenty years ago came to this spot and looked forward, uncertain what “a few more” years of military service might bring, and what new experiences might follow afterward. That young Airman moved with youthful energy, some combination of strength and naïveté, a blissful ignorance and hopeful expectation.
He never would have guessed that I’d be sitting here one day, looking back at him.
Nearby stands one tree which looks more like five twisted together, all on its own on the slope of emerald and caramel and sand-colored grass. Trunks and roots bent and cracked, body slumped over as if halfway broken by a typhoon–a crippled and damaged thing, reaching for blue sky but brought back to earth by the weight of its limbs. Vibrant leaves blossom from every branch; this tree is alive, without a doubt. But it looks broken and scarred, burdened with past trauma, a fighter knocked down, resting on one knee with a gloved hand on the mat for support, catching his breath, straining to rise again but wobbling with the exertion of staying upright.
I wonder, is there healing for that tree? Is there some path to restoration, some hope that one day it will stand–perhaps not upright and firm, but at least a little steadier, a little less bowed, a little more whole…?
Or are there experiences that, though we survive the ordeal, no, contrary to the popular wisdom, they do not make us stronger? Things that leave their scars and cracks in the thickest of bark, that rend and tear and splinter the sturdiest and freshest of young wood?
Can a gnarled, hunched, and wearied thing like this at least become something reminiscent of former glory?
…Asking for a friend.