A couple of years ago while trimming the branches on some young trees that I was growing in Georgia, I came upon a small Dawn Redwood that I had raised from a seedling. It died back in a hard freeze the year before and although I had given up on it, for some reason it had come back. Growing up from the base of the stump were two healthy bright green limbs, both reaching for the sun. I cut the old dead main trunk from the center and then stood back to look at the small three-foot tall tree. The two remaining branches seemed identical in every way, healthy, beautiful mirror images. But if the tree was to grow strong and fast, capable of surviving to a ripe old age without splitting in half, one of the branches had to be removed. I bent down on one knee and took one of the branches in each hand. Then, after looking up at the angle of the sun and the position of the other trees, I took the shears from my back pocket… and cut.
The great thing about tending to plants or gardening is that you can generally lose yourself in the task and not have to think about anything for a while. But as I threw the severed branch unto a pile of other trimmings, I was struck by the thought of how many times a day we are faced with choices that can lead us down drastically different paths.
Although we do get second chances with some decisions, others can prove to be just as irrevocable as the cutting of a branch. Seemingly simple choices like do I take that job? Send that email? Apply for the loan? Pass the car in front of me? Is it time to retire? Should I stand on the top of the ladder and clean the gutters myself? Our decisions and our actions that follow them, will lead us down paths where still more choices await. When they are all woven together by the loom of time, they form a complex tapestry that appears to be the result of some grand design. Some consider this to be proof of Divine intervention, fate, or mere chance occurrence.
This summer when it awoke from its winter slumber, our small seedling had grown into a 16′ tall redwood tree… straight, true, full, green and beautiful, with no hint of the trauma that it had endured or the simple but fateful decision that guided its growth. Although I don’t know for certain if cutting one branch or the other made the difference, I have come to realize that one thing is certain… we all have a role and a responsibility in the success or failure of each others lives and in the world that surrounds us, the long-term outcome and unintended consequences of which we can rarely predict. But it is still up to us to choose, even if we choose not to.