Though a Tree Grows So High, the Falling Leaves Return to the Root.
We are merely leaves that dangle from the branches entwining and inter-uniting on one massive tree. All of us begin as buds, naïve and striving for glimpses of the seemingly not-to-distant stars. Some will grow to be large and strong, others will be small and powerful, but others will be smothered, shriveled, killed, and will fall into the void between the branches and the ground, forgotten as the generations pass. In blind ignorance and childish confusion, my thoughts often dwelled on that emptiness, that terrible unknown over which I had no control.
Every night before I go to sleep, I am given the often coveted opportunity to think—to really think. Today, life-changing realizations plague my mind, but when I was younger just before flopping down to sleep, I plunged deeply into those unknown, unanswerable “what ifs?” What if there is no God? What if I go to Hell for thinking there is no God? What if my family falls apart again and this time never pulls itself back together? And, my most potent juvenile fear, what if death is nothingness? Slowly, I have become aware that life is something that we cannot control, but that is like telling a person afraid of heights that it’s safer to fly in a plane than drive in a car; it brought me no comfort.
The lack of a clear religion in my childhood contributed most to these fears. I had only based my beliefs on manipulated, biased information that I’d heard people say, not what I had interpreted myself. I only attended church when I was very young, and my parents eventually gave up when my brothers and I began throwing bibles at one anther during mass. “You’re a Catholic,” my mother always said, but at the time I could barely distinguish between my left and right foot, much less the varieties of existing religious views. Since I was deprived of church I had no way to understand.
Through my own religious and philosophical exploration, I began making my own interpretations. As I independently processed the stories and ideas of my faith, the darkness that drifted below the low hanging branches seemed to become less menacing and more of an inviting puzzle that still has hundreds of pieces yet to be discovered. I am still discovering.
Now, I hang from my knotted branch embracing the unknown darkness that lies above the earth and below our windblown bough and I have decided that it is not worth fear. We’re only given one life on earth, and it is better spent immersed in curiosity and wonder, not in fret and worry. I adore the fact that death and the spontaneous surprises of life are shrouded in veils of fog and obscurity; no one should spend lifetimes cowering before their intimidating feet; this I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.