From Dead Oak to New Life

I understand why Dorothy exclaimed, “There’s no place like home.” On writing night, this white wicker love seat beckons me. The crickets soothe me. The red wine relaxes me. Ever a creature of habit, I plan my day such that when I pull in the driveway at this white house with the red door, nothing interferes with the creative flow. All grown up responsibilities were attended to during the day… laundry and dishes done, trash bins returned to the back yard, wine already poured in a glass, next day’s clothes laid out. Tonight, life interfered a bit with my plan, but I won’t let that stop the urge to scratch the writing itch.

I babysat for my brother on his eighth anniversary tonight. I’d never seen Gabrielle as beautiful since her wedding day. The dress she donned was atypical attire for her, with a neckline that showed off the stunning ruby pendant P.J. had given her to celebrate the occasion. “Hair up or down?” she’d asked. It wouldn’t have mattered. She was a vision, and my brother was a blessed man to have her at his side for a night out on the town. Once they were on their way, I settled in to the typical evening routine, and it struck me that their apartment in Yorktown also feels like home. My nephew J.J. beckons me, little Katarina soothes me, and little Tessa relaxes me. Their parents’ return was delayed by a police block, so I was more than a little late getting back for writing night.

Upon entering my house, the first thing to catch my attention was the dreaded “Welcome” screen on my laptop that means my HP decided it was finally time to restart itself following my weeklong postpone update commands. Nearly a half hour passed before the updates concluded. That gave me time to re-plan my morning wardrobe with a work obligation for the morning that popped up while I was babysitting. The sundress I had laid out for my road trip to Syracuse, NY tomorrow was certainly not interview-appropriate, so there will have to be a bathroom wardrobe change after the interview before I head home. Home. That house on Cross Road was home to me for nearly twenty years of my life.

By the time my fingers started typing, nearly an hour past the scheduled time, home was on my mind. Not this home, but home in general. Syracuse was home for my upbringing. Nashville was home for ten years during the start of my professional career and my marriage. Syracuse was home again for a year and a half pit-stop before determining my new home would be in Hampton, VA near my brother’s family. Will this be my final resting place? Will this be the last place that I call home? Right now, there’s no place like it, but a decade ago or even two years ago, I could have never anticipated this is where I would be.

For the first writing night since I began, there are no remains of the hundred year old oak that fell in my backyard on Valentine’s Day. This dwelling was to the tree as Syracuse was to me. It was planted, groomed, established, grew, and flourished. The bulk of its life saw seasons change here and saw the peak of its vitality and vibrancy, like I did in academics, track, modeling, and school plays in New York.

Then, the tree became ill. This was its Nashville stage. From what was visible, the tree stood tall and strong with a thick trunk and long branches that overtook the entire yard. Like me in Nashville, working a variety of odd jobs and acquiring new skills before I began teaching and during summers, succeeding in my career, leading worship at my father-in-law’s church, completing my Master’s degree… on the outside, it appeared all was well.

Then, the great tree fell in a storm. It wasn’t until its trunk was severed that you could see the hollow decay inside that had caused the tragic downfall. This was its second Syracuse stage. My divorce drove me north to my parents’ home. I didn’t write anymore. I didn’t sing anymore. I didn’t want a career or a family anymore. I couldn’t feel. I was completely hollow inside, and though I had appeared to fare well in my Nashville home, the evidence of decay was unmistakable once the brokenness of spirit finally superseded outward appearances.

And though it was the shortest period of time in all of all places I’ve called home, it was pivotal in determining my future. Within days of its fall, the oak tree saw some immediate attention. Its branches were cut off and disposed of in the street. I identified with the tree then. That’s what the move to Syracuse was intended to be – disposing of all dead branches in my life including my failed marriage and all the entanglements tied up with it like our church and our friends.

Another month found some progress for the dead tree. A neighbor chopped up the usable parts of the trunk to give away for firewood. I identified with the tree then, too. While in Syracuse, the divorce was finalized, our assets divided, and I gave away my married name. The bulk of the tree, however, still remained in my backyard for months. It was an eyesore at first, then a barrier to mowing the lawn, then a reminder for me of my time in Syracuse when I was just waiting. Waiting for what came next. Unsure if the best of my life was in the past. Taking breaths while knowing that I wasn’t serving a purpose anymore. After four months, a man came to grind up the stump, and after five months, my landlord finally removed the last of the logs. If the tree weren’t dead, this would have been painful, like the process was for me in learning to move beyond the life that I had known, the life I had believed in that was over.

The oak tree is dead. But I won’t be convinced that during its hundred-year reign there wasn’t just one seed that found a new home in the soil in Hampton. Like I did. My first year in Hampton mirrors my time in my first childhood home in Syracuse. I said myself that this would be my fresh beginning, my clean slate, my chance to start over. In truth, I can’t say anyone in Hampton even knows that I used to sing or play the piano, but they know that I write. My desire for a family returned. My desire to know God again returned. My desire to excel in my career returned. Maybe music will, too, but that’s not the point. The point is that I have a new life in a new home, and I’m growing like a new seedling planted in the soil.

Planted here in Hampton, I am being groomed, established, and even beginning to flourish. I’ve found success in friendships and teaching and family. On Sunday night, I even found initial first date success with a nuclear engineer from eHarmony. We met at a fountain in Virginia Beach, walked and explored, and shared a romantic dinner at an Italian restaurant. He was a true gentleman; however, while I look forward to a second date at the beach after I return from my trip to New York next week, my joy tonight is reserved for the growth of the seedling over her first year truly living.

Time will tell who the man I’ll share my future with is… but time has already told the reality of new life for me. I’ve called a lot of places home, but there’s no place like this white wicker love seat and my second chance to live.

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