The overnight storm had been intense. High winds, rain and lightning had buffeted our neighborhood for hours. But with the morning came a beautiful sunrise and the fresh, clean air that only a storm can bring. Unfortunately, the deluge also brought downed power lines and no electricity for much of the city. Curiosity drove us outside to survey the damage and ascertain if we would be doing any repairs later that day.
Despite the ferocity of the storm and the fact that we had 13 trees in our yard, we found no major issues other than a few downed branches. Relieved at our good fortune, we started to wander the neighborhood, looking for other interesting issues. As we neared the local pond, we were shocked to see that an enormous oak tree had snapped off at the base and was laying halfway into the pond. The trunk of this tree was at least three feet in diameter. If the storm was able to take this monster down, how did the rest of our trees survive? Yet as we neared the scene, the reason for the collapse became apparent. Despite the outward indications of strength, the storm revealed that the entire inside of the tree was rotten and insect infested. The fall of this giant was inevitable; it was just waiting for the right adversity to make it happen.
So, what can we learn from this?
1. The decay started small and grew unchecked. As all rot does, the destruction of this tree started in very minor ways. Perhaps it was a small crack where the trunk split into the two main branches. Water seeped in and weakened the wood. Insects found the damage and thought it a good place to nest. The bug community prospered and over many years ate out the core of the trunk. Decay can start the same way in any of us, not with water and bugs but with other things. We allow an evil thought to grow about others, one that is bigoted in nature. Maybe it’s alcohol, drugs or some other physical addiction. Whatever it is, we know it hurts us, but we continue to indulge in it because of the short term pleasure we derive from it, even if we know that it is rotten and we should flush it out. This is when our moral convictions are tested. Can we summon the strength to overcome the evils that we are allowing to occur, or are we lying to ourselves, saying, “I can handle it, it’s just a little bit of rot.”?
2. Adversity will eventually reveal the decay. As the water and vermin ate away the inner strength of the oak, it became increasingly likely that it would fall. Ultimately, when the storm came and the winds blew, the tree didn’t have the inner strength to deal with the hardship and it toppled. While the tree was able to hide the problem for many years, when it eventually fell, the disgusting mess was obvious to all. We all have a little decay inside of us. Minor character weaknesses that won’t tear us down when trouble hits, but if we have allowed the rot to grow and destabilize our very core, the next adversity might be the one that reveals it. I think of the recent troubles of the owner of the LA Clippers, Donald Sterling. I doubt that his recently recorded (and revealed) remarks to his girlfriend were the first racist remarks that he had ever said, and certainly not the first ones he had ever thought! As psychologist James Allen stated, “Circumstance does not make the man; it reveals him to himself.”
3. When the tree fell, it left a heck of a mess. Not only was the rot revealed by the fall, but the cleanup around that pond was going to take a while, not to mention the other nearby trees and power lines that were knocked down by it. We have seen spectacular falls of great men and women whose inner decay had finally been revealed. Reputations are ruined, families are damaged (spouses and children) and others who chose to share in the evil that was taking place. One only has to recall people like Tom Petters, Bernie Madoff and Lance Armstrong to see how big a mess can be left behind by those who have allowed the decay to build to enormous sizes. Yet once we allow the rot to start, we find we must hide it and when we are trying to keep our activities secret the rot is getting larger.
The Hope: Fortunately, we are not trees. If we do fall, we have the opportunity to change and rebuild our reputations and our lives. But that is difficult and the repercussions are enormous. So rather than having to put our lives back together we should strive to control our own temptations. We have family, friends and other resources we can turn to that will help us to fight against the decay. Control your desires and keep your core strong.