Down a familiar road

Published 1:12 pm Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Before I begin my column today, I would like to take a moment to thank all the veterans who might read this column. I also thank all those who won’t read it. Thank you for your sacrificial service to our country. You will read this on Wednesday, but on the day it was written, Tuesday, my prayer was that God would bless you and that our country would say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

It is interesting what sometimes catches our fancy and makes an indelible mark upon our minds and spirits. A ride along a familiar, but not so frequently traveled road brought back a remembrance the other day. In addition to the ride, there was a bit of scripture that I was pondering. God works in mysterious ways.

From the third grade until graduation from high school, I rode the bus to school. It wasn’t like today when school buses are half full. There were no rides to school from momma or daddy. There was no expectation of an automobile at the age of 16 that would curtail the bus rides.

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I figured it up. From the third grade through the 12th, that’s 10 years. The school year was 180 days long. That’s 1,800 school bus trips, give or take a few off for various circumstances.

We lived about 10 miles from Pelham where I went to school. But, after figuring in the zig-zags and backtracking of those country roads, the ride to school took about an hour. There was plenty to talk and think about on the way to school.

There was one sight, though, that I saw every day. I made a point to see it. It didn’t matter what I was doing, talking about, or whatever, when I got to this sight, I would look out the window and make sure that I saw it.

On the County Line Road, about a mile out from Meigs, there was a little wetland area of about an acre. It was a little swamp. In the middle of the swamp was a most unique tree. It was a tall, skinny pine that towered over all the other trees. Not by just a little bit, but by a lot.

It was not a huge tree. By that I mean, its trunk was not massive like some of those virgin longleaf pines that we used to see in large numbers. They are mostly extinct now.

It wasn’t straight. The tree was crooked. If I could describe the tree in human terms, I would say it was like the 7-foot tall basketball player that towers over all the other players. The only problem with his physique is that he only weighs 180 pounds and looks like a feather could knock him down.

So, it wasn’t all that pretty, but it dominated that small, wetland area simply because it was so much taller than all the other trees. Before I would get to the swamp, I would look out the window of the bus and see this tree and its canopy that had made its mark on my mind. I could not ignore it.

I would play games in my mind. I would imagine that on this particular day of riding the bus, I would not look at that tree. I would engage in all kinds of diversions and would almost pass the swamp, but, right at the last moment, my eyes would be pulled to that gangly pine tree.

That was over 40 years ago, but I can still picture that tree in my mind.

Recently, I was traveling that County Line Road and passed by that wetland area. I could see that it was no longer wet. Perhaps there has been a change in the climate or the water table. The swamp was no more. But what about the tree?

I would have found great comfort in seeing that tree again. I could see it in my mind and I would have marveled at the resilience of Mother Nature if it were still standing tall. I might have even thought divinely of that tree.

It was no longer there. I saw a gray and decayed trunk that stood maybe 20 feet tall. It could have been what was left of the old tree. It looked to be in the right place and there were pieces of the tree all around it. But even if it was what was left of the old pine tree, in its fallen state it no longer fascinated me.

I thought of the scripture that I had been reading. It was about Jesus and his disciples walking out of the Temple area. They sought to impress the Master with mankind’s constructions.

“Look at these marvelous buildings. See how massive the stones!” they said.

Jesus was unimpressed.

“Not one stone here will be left on another,” he said.

Our Lord’s words might sound gloomy or pessimistic. If we place our hopes in buildings or earthly possessions or even pine trees, that could be the case. All of those things are going to pass away. Jesus is simply telling us the truth.

Our mistake would be in not listening to all of the truth. The truth is not finished with the passing away of the old. There is some amount of sadness that comes with the acknowledgment that a unique and curious tree has passed.

But the whole truth is that my hope of glory, my eternal life is not based upon my memory of a tree or any other part of my wonderful life. My hope of glory is a gift from God and I accepted it in faith. That blessed assurance is the positive that overcomes the negative.

That positive view of life keeps me going. It enables me to think that God knows what makes me tick. And who knows? Perhaps my room in heaven may include a view of a tall, gangly pine tree. Wouldn’t that be something?