As I pedaled my bike down the quiet country road on my regular Sunday afternoon exercise jaunt, something I saw on the side of the road made me hit my brakes.
I hadn’t noticed it in a very long time, and on this particular day, its image of stark loneliness struck me as morosely sad.
It was a mighty oak tree, several feet in diameter and as tall as a three-story building. The oak had matured in the twenty years since I first laid eyes on it, back when it was a mere impressionable teenager, and so terribly in love.
Yep. Completely, totally, in love. Smitten. And not afraid to show the world.
For the oak had sprouted right beside a young palm tree, and the two had grown together, intertwined as it seemed, for all eternity. The oak had grown around the base of the palm, so that the palm seemed to spring from its very center. And the oak had wrapped two small branches around the palm, with digit-like twigs that strongly resembled fingers extending from the ends of those winding, clinging branches, exactly like arms embracing a lover.
It was remarkable, really. You couldn’t pass by without an AWWW escaping your lips and feeling a warm fuzzy feeling somewhere deep in your innards. Love was their destiny and it was a beautiful, beautiful thing.
I always intended to take a picture of the tree-lovers, but I somehow never did.
And then one day, it was too late. The palm tree was gone. Severed from the arms that surrounded it with such passion. The new owners of the property must have thought the palm would eventually threaten the health of the oak, so they’d chain-sawed it away. Boy was I angry. No, more like livid. How could they be so cruel to ruthlessly separate the lovers like that?
The poor pathetic oak stood there with its arms frozen in an empty embrace, encircling, loving, protecting … nothing. I felt like my heart was ripped in half every time I saw it from then on, so in the passing years, I’d disciplined myself from looking in that direction.
Until this particular day. And would you believe it? After all this time, that oak tree still had it’s arms locked in the same empty embrace? The hole in its center had never filled in, leaving the imprint of the long-gone palm tree as if it were still there. Loved. Protected.
I couldn’t help but think of the funeral I had just attended that week. Married over three decades, *Justine and Mark had been high school sweethearts who never dated anyone but each other. They were both my classmates, and there was never any doubt that they were meant for each other. They clung to each other through the bad times and drew strength from each other during the good.
It was their destiny to be together.
Until Mark suddenly fell over with a heart attack at age 56.
Justine appeared to be in shock at the funeral. She was surrounded by her children and the brand new grand-baby that Mark had absolutely doted over. She hugged them over and over, she hugged her friends, she hugged everyone who came to offer their condolences. But I knew her embrace was empty, like the empty embrace of this mighty oak, left to live alone without its lover.
And twenty years from now, I’ll bet the imprint of Justine’s own palm tree will still be in her center as clearly as this brokenhearted oak tree. It’s their destiny.
*Names changed for privacy.