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If you spend time with a tree, it will share its story, says Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist professor at SUNY and author of Braiding Sweetgrass (2013), her way of introducing her students to their classroom forest. And it’s precisely story that tweaks imaginations and sparks fire; without it, we languish.

From my study window, I glimpse my neighbor’s golden raintree thriving by his driveway, its growth since last year, considerable. I used to walk by it in all seasons: summer’s clusters of small yellow flowers mantling the ground beneath with the appearance of wetness—thus its name; autumn’s bronzing its fruit into what looks like three-pointed Chinese pagodas, only slowly dropping them; and winter’s sloughing off gray leaves and black pods to inquisitive gray squirrels.

So, what does this golden raintree say to me? Have I picked up its story? We both have been around for some years and I’ve been gifted with this new day to appreciate summer’s pristine splendor: the primary greens, still glossy, and the secondary yellows, still sun-catching—they play off each other and invite us to do the same.

Although change can be hairy at times, still it happens. The golden raintree is the same tree, but different and more herself. Yes, she’s feminine and lends herself to storytelling.

Look for her along city streets, backyards, and be delighted.

Around 4:30 A.M., I awoke with this dream, one of direction:

I was invited to attend a weeklong seminar with a mixed group of academics in an Old World estate, located in the Swiss Alps. The pine cone-laden evergreens seen from the open windows of my spacious private room scented the air. In the garage was a Rolls Royce for my use.

The first morning, the Director, the seven professors, among whom were my former Jungian analyst, Ellen Sheire, and the other students met around a large oak table in the conference room. The Director’s opening comments frustrated my expectation of being credentialed at the conclusion of my studies. Not so. I was to work with my professor this week, deepen those studies during the coming year, and in the following, return to be tested before being handed over to the next professor as the others were doing. To myself, I moaned that my credentialing would take years.

Then, the Director noted my anger and said, “We didn’t fully inform you about the process because we wanted a candidate willing to learn our way of handling things. We know you’re teachable.”

The Director, a strong compassionate stand-in for the Sacred in my psyche, had arranged everything. I had only to participate. The Old World estate, located in the Swiss Alps, more than fulfilled my need for beauty and order and solitude. The mixed group of academics provided psychic stimulation. The seven professors, together with Ellen Sheire, were seasoned guides into the new learning, ahead of me.

My takeaway from this dream is the need for deeper patience and willingness with the process of my terminal illness. I still have much to learn. I’m not in charge.

Two weeks it had been going on: burning feet jerking me awake, scattering dreams from awareness, and plunging me within dregs of misery. Bleary-eyed, I pulled myself out of bed and began ankle pumps to restore circulation, but only somewhat. Daytime walking hurt and disrupted my self-care routine for my terminal illness. Rather than use opiates offered by the hospice nurse, I researched other responses to this nerve pain.

One was from Foot Wakers by Yamuna: hollow rubber half-spheres covered with knobbles that stimulate sluggish circulation. While sitting at my computer, I ripple my bare feet over the top and sides of the knobbles: their tingling offers my bluish feet a holiday like none other. Even my hammertoes stretch out nicely. Days of such care have scotched the fire in my feet and restored my walking.

 

This experience opened me to the symbolic meaning of Foot Wakers: people, places, and things that pull us from the humdrum, put spirit in our steps, and ply melodies in our hearts—all carriers of God’s unconditional love in which we thrive.

Certainly years of Gloucester retreats combined all three: my spirited directors and other retreatants who came year after year; the kaleidoscopic beauty of the seascape; the delicious food and spartan accommodations. Salty silence relaxed my rigid ego, freshened my attitude, and pried open awareness of the Cosmic Christ in our midst. Eight days was never long enough.

 

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