If we surrendered
to Earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours II, 16
Last weekend one of my closest friends got married in a lovely outdoor ceremony at an arboretum. It was perfect timing – autumn colors were in full force, and though there was a forecasted 70% chance of rain, we had only a brief shower in the morning, followed by a day of clouds and mist. At the hour of the ceremony, it was as though we all stood in a room where the lights had been dimmed, a perfect atmosphere for reflection and for speaking from the heart.
Though a wedding is inarguably about the two people pledging lifelong commitment, like any ritual, it invites us all to participate and offers us each an opportunity to be changed in some way. Michael Meade likens attending a wedding to walking along the shore, because it’s a place where two unlike things come together. We’re inevitably drawn to that.
I am fascinated by commitment. This world we live in is permeated by uncertainty. We can do a lifetime’s worth of work and introspection and still not really know ourselves, much less anyone else. Yet we make promises. We put down roots. We say, whatever comes up, whatever work I have still to do, I’ll do it in the context of relationship with this person. It’s an act of faith to rival any other. Even divorce doesn’t truly break such a commitment; separation is also personal work, very difficult personal work, done in the context of a relationship.
Almost exactly one year ago, I was backpacking with this same friend, and I wrote these words about the trees in the Smokies where we hiked:
“I considered the stillness and patience of these wisest of teachers, their willingness to stand still, through sleet and rain, through seasons, through decades and centuries, their faith in drawing nourishment always from this one place, and when more nourishment needed, in simply going deeper to find it. How brave this seems compared to my habit of arduous climbing. How faithful.”
How wonderful to stand with that same friend in a garden of trees, under far more peaceful circumstances, and remember the lessons of trees, of rootedness.