Walking home from town this morning, and burdened with two large bags of shopping, I decided to take a break at the green and sit on a bench for a rest. It was a lovely morning and sitting there was a nice peaceful experience.
My eye fell on a large Horse Chestnut tree on the other side of the green, just across the road from the old church. This tree had just started to turn. The foliage was just beginning to hint at that golden hue, the top branches seemed portentously thinner than the rest, and there was a small littering of leaves at the base.
It reminded me very much of the tree which sits across the river from my parents house in Sligo. A huge Horse Chestnut too. Dad would always say that this was the first tree to ever show any sign of Spring or, indeed, Autumn.
I think he was right. Before any other tree around had any inkling that Summer was once more slipping away, this big riverside tree would be gone solidly brown and ochre. It was always ahead of the game, be it with good news or bad.
Dad is gone now, of course, and that tree is turning without him. I thought about this as I sat with my shopping bags at my feet and watched my own, somewhat more tardy, Horse Chestnut. If my one is turning now, then Dad’s one must be well-advanced. Many of the leaves may have even fallen from it and been swept away by the river beneath.
Life goes on, unaltered, after we leave it. That riverside tree keeps predicting the seasons with unerring aim, regardless of whether an old man watches out for it or not. So what does the old man leave when he goes, if the tree just keeps on turning regardless?
There are some nutrients, I suppose. Some small element of ‘giving back to the ground’ and, although he is a few miles away from the riverside tree, there is at least some theoretical value in the notion that he is giving back to the tree via the soil in this most basic chemical level.
“It’s not much, is it?” I thought to myself as I sat and watched my own tree, “all those years of witnessing the turn of the years and all that is left is a hint of some ‘butterfly effect’ soil nutrition. It’s not much of a legacy.”
Then it all suddenly became perfectly clear to me, such that I had to smile a little. The soil wasn’t really the legacy at all. There was one much greater and much more profound and also much more simple than that.
It was me.
Here was I, sitting on a bench in my town, noting the seasons turn on the evidence of a tree, just as Dad had done before me and perhaps others of mine may continue to do after me.
He’s left more than his nutrients to the ground. He’s left me, with so much of himself inside of me and me being so like him in so many ways. He couldn’t stay to watch any more seasons turn but he could genetically entrust me to almost-subconsciously do it for him.
That’s why we don’t need immortality or reincarnation or any such thing. We live our lives and we leave our traces behind when we go, in many different and profound ways.
And that shall be enough.