There are woods and there are trees and there is nothing between them but a recognition of either. Today, when the figures are produced, the ones that number the dead, there will be one there that we recognise.
I always thought that the numbers would not really hit home until one of them was somebody we knew. Those big daily figures are not easy to digest; they come at you with a cumulative certainty whose intention is to smack you right between the eyes – and they do. But being hit by something so very, very big is a little like being swept up by a tsunami that cannot be comprehended or rationalised. It’s probably only when something washes past you, that looks like someone you once knew, that you are able to grasp the extent of the disaster. Last night was one of those trees from the woods moments.
It was around 10 pm when my wife and I had decided to get an early night. I had been upstairs reading for a while and she had been watching something on TV with the girls. Shared television and streaming has become a positive byproduct of these concentrated times. The middle daughter has taken to sharing entertainment, and our company, in a way that she had not beeen inclined to do before. It was me, this time, who was pulling the isolation trick. At 10, there was movement from below and I heard the footsteps mounting the stairs.
In a quiet synchronicity, the four of them followed their tangents, opening bedroom doors, getting changed, coming back out to visit the bathroom; the buzz of electric toothbrushes sounding the end of the day. In time-honoured fashion, my wife and I exchanged whatever conversation we had left, shared our confusion about this new world, kissed and prepared to settle down for the night. The light had not been doused five minutes when we heard a commotion on the landing. Our middle daughter was seemingly repeating the same phrase over and over again, “Oh no, it can’t be true. Oh no, it can’t be true.”
It takes a while for things to sink into comprehension. My first thoughts were that something had been spilled, something of such importance, or permanence, that it would leave a stain for the best part of eternity. Our middle daughter is prone to the dramatics and we were accustomed to the storms that came in tea-cups. The middle daughter was joined on the landing by our other daughters and their half-formed words took up a similar refrain. Then, our bedroom door opened, the light went on, and the three of them came in.
“It’s Dave. It’s Dave. He’s dead. He died.”
We sat up in bed. Questions were forming but not spoken.
“It’s Dave, Mum. He died tonight.”
Dave is the husband of a family who we have known through the friendship of our daughters. My middle daughter and their youngest daughter have been friends since primary school; best friends. Our daughter has spent so much time at their house that we often wondered if she had a preference. So, at that relatively late hour, when she got a call from her friend who, through tears, told her that her dad was dead; disbelief and shock fell upon her.
The tsunami had struck and it was tearing up the wood, but, this time, one of the trees had a name and a life that we knew.
The Death Of A Tree
When I see a tree cut down
whose life was not yet done
I look upon it with a frown
and then look at the sun.
For the sun that nurtured every limb
and every leafy branch
has one less tree to care for
that never had a chance
to say to man
”Don’t cut me down.
Don’t let me die.
Don’t let the sap
within me dry.’
For every tree that’s been alive
that’s grown upon this earth
is a gift from nature to us all
that’s always known its worth.
The problem as I see it
is man who cannot see
just what it probably feels like?
To be the cut down tree.