Gotta say, I've had India.Arie and her beautiful version of the Eagles' The Heart of the Matter going through my head...
It is only a tree. Just a tree, nothing more, but one of great sentimental value. The tree our kids climbed and the one we watched grow over the last couple of decades.
We were thrilled for new next door neighbors to finally move in after the house had been vacant for two full years. We'd seen folks moving in boxes bit by bit. Actually, we'd seen a huge extended family moving in. Hadn't yet had a chance to welcome them to the cul d' sac, but we thought we'd wait until they didn't look so busy. And until all the relatives had gone home.
Last Saturday, while we were enjoying some time with friends in our home, my wife had briefly ducked out to get something in our car. The pained look on her face was accompanied by the words, "There's a man in our tree with an axe, and he's cutting it down." I was not thrilled.
Walking outside, I found the a man in his late fifties sitting in our tree chopping away at the branches around him. Politely but quite loudly to get his attention, I told him "Enough- get out of our tree!" In broken English, he replied that the branches were hitting his roof. My response was a firm "That's fine to cut them off at the property line, but you cannot get in my tree, on my lawn, directly by my front window, and cut them off at the trunk." I was not happy, but the damage was done as he climbed down. "I wish you would have talked to me. I would have been glad to help you. I just wish you would have let me know what you wanted to do." An even older man in his late seventies quietly looked at me and lowered his head. We went inside.
My wife cried tears of sentimentality- old memories clashing with the new reality. I was just mad. I felt violated. Bullied. Overlooked. Yet, I have to say, if anyone thinks there is no God, let me tell you, I was a monument to the power of Him working through me in the area of self control. In days of old, I would have pulled him out of that tree, yelled colorful words, and called an attorney to file a lawsuit. Trust me, God is real and active! I returned inside to our guests.
Several hours later, once our friends had departed, I journeyed outside to view the damage. Our neighborly lumberjack was gone as was the entire family. The craftsmanship was shoddy. The poor tree looked slaughtered with one third of it cut off, stumps left like shards of glass from the trunk. I walked inside, stewed a bit and burst into tears once I sat down in our living room.
A couple of hours passed by. We decided that it was just a tree, and our relationship with our newest neighbors was more important to us. A young man drove up, parked his car, and walked directly to the remains of the tree. My wife and I stepped out to greet him. He probably didn't know what to expect. Instead of anger, what came out of me was a gentle hello. His response was shocking. "Please forgive me for what happened. I am so sorry my father did this to your tree. I had no idea he was planning to do anything. I am so sorry. How can I fix this?"
Our new neighbor was actually the young man now in front of me. My reply was gentle, too, as I was surprised by Eric's response, "Just fix the cuts so they are smooth and prepare the tree afterwards. We never have to speak of this again." Then, I extended my hand and smiled. "Welcome to the neighborhood." We went on to have a very nice conversation about them moving into the area.
In hindsight, the issue wasn't the offense. It was how I would react to it. I had every right to feel violated and angry, but the damage was not reversible. Would I choose to forgive or hold a grudge and never move on? The heart of the matter was forgiveness. Would I practice what I preach? Would I grow beyond this and value relationship over my rights and my anger? For once, the answer was "yes".