When the rotted out tree landed on my car while driving to work one windy day many years ago, I numbly pulled over, called for help, and from the driver’s seat surveyed the car’s dramatic damage.
Surrounding drivers emerged from their cars, incredulously inquiring about me, and some of them started hauling the tree’s broken limbs out of the road to unblock the passageway. Despite the immense impact to the base of the windshield, precisely where my legs had been, I was 100% fine.
Swiftly thereafter, repair-mode ensued. And although that uprooted day led to a whirlwind of routine frustrations that accompany all accidents, I was utterly aware of the miracle that I was safe. It made sense that a tree could succumb to wind and accidentally disrupt my life. I moved on from the event, rattled, yet filled with gratitude because the outcome could have been way worse.
But I’ve since wondered: what if I had been hit by another car, rather than a tree? What if there had been a driver—a person—to blame? How would I have handled the stranger who nearly killed me and caused a huge ordeal by totaling my car?
Would I have chosen to forgive or accuse? Would I have seen it as an accident or an infliction? Would I have experienced gratitude or anger?
And what if I’d been hurt? Or worse, killed? Would those on ‘my side’ ever forgive the driver? And what if the driver had been distracted? Or what if the driver had been under the influence? And even in the case of the tree, would we have gone after the owner of the property from which the tree fell? Would we have lived inside a vicious and painful cycle of blame and resentment? Would we have been willing to ever move on?
It’s impossible to know without living it first-hand, but I think there’s value in reflecting on it before the next metaphoric tree falls. Too often, we’re sobered by the reality that just as trees can rot from within, drop branches, or fall entirely, people are equally susceptible to these kinds of trajectories. Out of nowhere or for no fair reason, another person can hurt you, betray you, destroy your life.
And at the same time, to live inside of the human experience with others in a loving spirit reveals that like trees, people are inherently beautiful, intricately rooted and designed through nature and nourishment, and ever evolving.
Rationally, it just makes no sense to blame a fallen tree for the mess it makes. This particular tree, was presumably living its life, standing strong to the best of its ability, when something gave way, and it made a big mess; a mess that inadvertently involved me. Unlucky and disappointing for me, no doubt. And. Trees are easy to forgive; they’re easy to appreciate; they’re easy to respect.
But, shouldn’t it also make sense that if I could offer grace and forgiveness to a tree without hesitation, that I could also offer grace and forgiveness to a human being who might cause an unfortunate situation for me too?
What’s troubling me, is that I’m not sure I know how to do that… how to truly forgive a person who hurts me in a profound way. My experience with the fallen tree reveals that I am able to forgive, but I wonder, when tested, will I be willing to forgive a human being so easily?
What I know for sure is that I no longer want to get stuck into thinking that any one being is any one thing. I’m so over this-or-that-ing people. I want to embrace that we all have stories and we all, in a sense, have rotten parts. Good or bad…saint or sinner…right or wrong. Enough. None of us is just one thing.
People are complicated. Relationships are complicated. Life is complicated.
And yet, everyday moments reveal that people are stunning. Relationships are stunning. Life is stunning.
Complicated and stunning. We are both.
And more. We are so much more.
I suppose it’s my dream that we could all truly hold space for the complicated and the stunning and the more, especially when we’ve been hurt. Maybe that’s how we learn to forgive.
Written by: Lindsay Hurty