Sixteen years ago, we met: a mature sweet gum tree shading the front of my new bungalow with rich green foliage. It had survived the city’s removal of a large limb, its wound long healed.

Months passed, before spotting a solitary yellow leaf laying on the grass, its stem dormant, announcing the change. I looked up. Still largely green, occasional bi-colored leaves hung on the branches. The surprise was unfurling like swirls of colorful cloths shown at auction: scarlets, lime greens, buttery yellows, and thievery browns.

For several weeks, the show continued until its demise: mounds of faded shriveled leaves strewn around the yard, later raked and bagged for the city’s yard waste pick-up. Stripped from my natural beauty, I grieved. It would be a long wait for its return.

As years passed, the sweet gum tree continued prospering, with more bags of gum balls lined at the curb for the city’s pick-up.

Then, the disruption began: 2021’s violent rain storms wrenched two large branches from the trunk leaving large swaths of exposed wood. Its woundedness remained with us until three weeks ago, when another large limb crashed to the street, with nothing precipitating this loss. The sweet gum tree was ailing and the arborist’s response was to take it down. A red cord, now circling the trunk, will enable the crew to identify it.

The analogy between the ailing sweet gum tree all that lives, including ourselves, is obvious, but our spirits continue on.

We wait for the inevitable.

Sleep, one of the symptoms of my terminal illness, is shrink-wrapping my gift of twenty-four-hour living.

Your will, not mine, be done.

“Get ready! Get set! Go!” yelled our high school coach, its fierceness goaded my heavy legs to run the perimeter of the hockey field with my gym class. Instead, a swish of dark tunics whizzed by me like wild ducks fleeing from hunters-on-the-kill. Alone, my lungs heaving, I gazed at the stillness of the surrounding fields, their wild grasses shriveled by the summer’s sun, with crows cawing and clowning around. But I was ready, I said to myself as I collapsed on the dusty ground and prepared to receive the coach’s caustic comments. I always got them.

It was always about readiness, a discipline of mind-body in the present moment. But I preferred fantasy to the rough edges of the real world: rather than play field hockey, I fancied the sun-sky above me, its thready clouds tossed by humorous winds.

Only much later, in the work world, did readiness’s importance flare into practice. I had no choice, but I still pocketed fantasy in other areas of my life—when no one was around. 

And then I learned of the bible’s use of the word ready—Over five hundred times, in both testaments. That fact cast a different light upon those ancient people and their responses to the revelations of the living God. Fully conscious, they were persons of action. For many, their physical survival depended upon it.

And centuries later, Jesus came out of this tradition of readiness. He taught in the gospel of Luke, “You too must stand ready, because the Son of man is coming at an hour when you do not expect.” Never has my readiness been more critical than in my present circumstances. This attitude also finds expression in Step Six’s AA: “Became entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character.”

I’m deeply gratefully to have learned about being ready this late in life. I still have significant helpers.

Jesus of Nazareth

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