A Seed of Equivalent Benefit
How is your positive mental attitude? How are you when the worst of situations come to the surface? When you are confronted with tragedy, where can you turn? Napoleon Hill, writer, philosopher and positive thinker, believes there is a proverbial silver lining, or seed of equivalent benefit, accompanying every catastrophe. Finding that seed makes us different, human, frail or strong. Last month a few of The Care of Trees folks had the opportunity to share one of these catastrophes with a family in our community.

On a May afternoon in Alexandria, Virginia, 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett was playing in his grandmother’s front yard. For reasons not yet understood but thought now to be random, Kevin was murdered. At this point, his killer has not been found while myriad puzzling questions remain a mystery. So many lives have been affected by this tragedy, so many feelings left raw and indescribable.

I saw this catastrophe in usual places on the news and in the paper. I shook my head in the customary way, unaware of how involved our lives would become with a family immersed in such agony and grief. Where do we enter this tragic story? What is our role and where does our involvement begin and end?

The Care of Trees deals in trees, right? Well, not quite. The Care of Trees deals with people and people own trees. Everything we do involves people, and people bring incredible things with them. Think of the situations in which you have been involved. Do they ever just involve trees? There are usually people attached to those trees during the process. This particular situation touched the lives of four of The Care or Trees team members, Ron Rubin, Tim Boyd, Teresa Rowley, and me.

Mount Vernon Elementary School is within our Alexandria office’s district. Arborist Representative, Tim Boyd has had a relationship with the school and their trees for years. After this tragedy Tim approached the school with the idea of planting a memorial tree for Kevin. He thought it would be a positive way for the school and its students to remember Kevin and also serve as therapy or an “outlet” for family, friends and students. We adults have enough difficulty moving through situations such as this. Imagine what must be going through the minds of these school children as they experience emotions that life, at times, so cruelly provokes.

The goal here is positive, the idea, an opportunity to create an avenue of understanding, a seed of equivalent benefit, the seed of a willow oak tree. Tim chose a willow oak tree for many reasons but most of all for its longevity in our region. Willow oaks grow quickly, achieve tremendous proportion and live for hundreds of years. Imagine Kevin’s family in the year 2200 looking at this memorial tree. Could it influence someone’s life or bring someone comfort? Could it change someone’s life? Could it make someone stop and turn a poor decision into a good one? Someone may now at least have the opportunity.

The day of planting found The Care of Trees employees, teachers, students, families, TV news and, newspapers eager to plant Kevin’s tree. I send a hardy thanks to Dean Guinn for making sure the tree arrived for planting on time. There were quite a bit of logistics getting the tree and people where they needed to be at the appointed time. Our part was quite simple, that of donating the tree and assisting with its planting. The teachers and students took turns removing dirt from the hole, placing the tree at the correct height and covering the root system with dirt. Tim and I talked with the kids about the tree itself while the teachers reminisced about past friendships with Kevin and how the kids could look at the situation and remember for years to come. Needless to say, emotions were at an ebb. The newspaper and TV crews also stood and listened with great respect for the gravity of the situation. There were no interviews with families, no question and answer period, just emotion and sobriety emanated throughout the schoolyard. I remember Teresa moving next to me with eyes filled with tears over youth so senselessly stolen. At the end, each student was given a red rose. One by one they placed their roses in a circle around Kevin’s tree, a circle of friendship and memory for them to carry forever. After a moment of silence we concluded our ceremony and the children returned to class and to their lives that had now been changed in a way some of them may never completely understand.

So what about this proverbial silver lining or seed of equivalent benefit? How does one look tragedy in the eye and come back a better person time and time again? Meeting Kevin’s parents was a marvelous experience. When they first arrived I had no clue who they were. I was expecting a family stricken with grief or lost within the situation. Instead, here were two people ready to participate in not only a situation but also an opportunity for many children just like Kevin. They helped dig, plant and mulch and brought much positive aura into the ceremony. Where will this family and these children go after such an experience? Time will tell. What matters is that there are always good memories and good people. There will always be friends; friends that share good and bad but most importantly share those things together. We can stand tall in the face of adversity when we stand together, just as trees stand together in the forest and as they can stand alone when they must. As these students water and care for this new tree they will remember what a good friend and person Kevin was. They can watch the tree and themselves become adults and grow together. I’m glad I was there and made new friends. I never met Kevin but I feel as though I have known him my whole life. You never know where you will find yourself or with whom you will be involved. I treasure these experiences and hope I live a long time, just like a tree I know in Alexandria. Bless you Kevin.

Copyright 2005 by Peter Deahl. All rights reserved.
 
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