It is the morning after Mother’s Day. I stare at the splendid green split-leaf maple she gave on a Mother’s Day long ago. Now too big to move, it must come down to accommodate changes to my landscape. In three days, it can fall to the impersonal hacks of a grinding chainsaw, or I can, with gentle hands, take it down to the trunk myself.
Choosing the later, I begin, talking to the tree and thanking it for the joy it has given me over the years. I planted it as a sapling too close to the house before I realized my brown thumb had turned green.
This hardy little tree had survived the onslaught of roofing tiles thrown by workmen chained to their time schedule, who never noticed the delicate tree beneath them. I cried as I removed the broken branches. The tree survived, filled in its wound, and grew. When the house painters came, I had to be the one to go and trim back its branches to prevent another shock.
Now, with no ability to save this gift, this bright green work of nature’s art, I remove its leafy branches. They caress me as I move in. I tell them how grateful I am for their contribution to beauty and my garden. I tell the tree the story of its birth, care, and end. As it’s caretaker, I feel it’s my responsibility to honor this unique aliveness as I help it to its death.
Connecting the Dots
It occurs to me that buffeted by change and circumstance, some relationships survive and flourish, others, not so much, and still, others die. And then I consider the evolution of this country. I have no idea why. I turn to the arts including gardening, to leave the chaos of country and government behind.
In the Beginning
The natural resources of this land called America were cared for by the Native Americans. They took only what they needed, thanking the animals and plants for their sacrifice and the gods for their bounty. In return, the land and its creatures supported their life. The symbiosis preserved the balance.
In time, a group of white explorers came looking for riches, natural resources they could plunder and send back to their homeland. They were followed by settlers fleeing persecution. Neither group were able to speak the native language or cared to understand the culture, honor the people, or negotiate the land use. White privilege: no consent. The new arrivals called those who didn’t speak their language, share their clothing, or religious beliefs, savages.
Just as I had planted the tree, white privilege planted itself on Native American lands. Instead of thanking the people who preserved the land, our white privileged predecessors demanded that they, who had lived on and off the land for centuries, leave. Resistance was countered by genocide. In historical fairness, this colonization pattern had historical precedence. That doesn’t make it right, it only shows that ignorance and fear created monsters and murders.
As I nurtured the tree, the white privileged nurtured this country, preserving itself at every possible opportunity. Every non-white immigrant and immigrant population learned very quickly that they were not wanted. However, if they were to stay, there were rules. Exceptions were few and far between. Those who resisted were murdered.
Every time my tree suffered a setback, it changed to preserve itself. I know this from its gnarled irregular branch growth pattern. At the time southern white farmers suffered an economic depression, an inventor, Eli Whitney, unveiled his cotton gin. Cotton became the new gold. Still, to make money, one had to keep expenses down – slavery, and specifically African slaves, aka savages. Free labor, with no undue expense spent on food, lodging, sleep, sanitation, and education.
White privileged farmers, now elevated to plantation and slave owners, inserted their assumed privilege in their churches, in the laws of the land, and use it to justify their abuse of women, children, and people of color. The only people they respected were and are their own. To emphasize the importance of this differential, they invented the word, “Race.” It has no biological or scientific basis. The word only exists to create harm, separation, and support hurtful stereotypes.
I am sad that this beautiful tree must go. With each cut, I honor our history and relationships. I apologize for the assault and thank it for its strong presence in my garden. I explain it will have a new life, recycled into chips that will layer another garden, and support new life.
While many people in this country may be sad to see the patriarchal order go, we, the people, need to acknowledge that old ideas must be recycled. We must debunk and end the control of the white privileged. Why? Because white privilege is a galling assumption, and race, a myth, and a lie.
To move on to the truth that “all men (all people) are created equal,” we must insist there be a public proclamation that recognizes the horrors this country white privileged leaders inflicted on Native Americans, Africans, and each wave of immigrants, and it must include an apology and promise, henceforward, of inclusion. We must take responsibility to make this country whole.
In my new yard, I will miss my glorious tree.
In a new paradigm of humanism, I will not miss the divisiveness that’s killing us and will ultimately be our downfall. I will not miss the violence and terror inflicted on African Americans and people of color when we acknowledge our past and move to a true “freedom for all” country — free from violence with a government for and by the people.
Goodbye tree. Goodbye leaves swaying in the breeze and making gentle fluttering sounds. Goodbye branches that embrace. Hello to the next phase of my garden and my life.
Good-bye white privilege. Goodbye hate crimes. Hello to a country of inclusiveness, diversity, and kindness. It is up to each of us to “make it so.”
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