The Rev. Dr. Guy Sayes, aka "Gus," and I had just returned to St. Louis from a week-long road trip and retreat at Nada Hermitage, a Carmelite monastery in Crestone, CO. Before he flew home to Asheville, NC, since he has so much time on his hands these days, I asked him to scout out the nurseries in the area for a Sycamore. He promised he would. I left it at that.
The Sycamore was to figure decisively into my son's upcoming wedding, which would to be held in a few weeks just outside Asheville, Gus's "hometown." Zak and Kathleen would plant it as the central metaphor of their faithful intent to entrust their marriage to the deep soil of God's gracious love "like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream" (Jeremiah 17:8). At least, that was the plan.
But forget the Sycamore. For now, let's do some math. The weekend began with the 8 of us, our immediate family, who made the day's drive to the cabin we'd rented for wedding week. There we were
met by our son (that's 9). Eventually, my younger sister, Cindy, and her husband, Tony, and daughter, Katiebelle joined us (. . . 12), also several of Zak's buddies and their significant others
(. . . 13-18). Finally, at the cookout the day after the wedding, we were joined by 13 more wonderful friends who'd driven all the way in from Arkansas, Missouri and Maryland (that's 30 or so).
My numbers may be off a tad, but you get the picture: the love grew and grew all week. It started little but got big--and you could easily multiply this by two when you factor in Kathleen's
family and friends who were in their own beautiful cabin just up the road.
The thing about our week-long community was how organic it all felt. Everyone pitched in, helped prepare meals and kept things fun yet in good order. Some played board games, others put together a puzzle the size of Texas involving myriad lighthouses. Still others took long walks and hit the sauna, or sat out on the deck to visit or read. An elite few obsessively did pushups--I'm still not sure what that was about. Some drank their share of beer, vodka and wine; others were teetotalers. Almost all of us, except for the Davis and Hussung families, and possibly my younger sister, were introverts. But we all managed to give each other space and grace. (Okay, we did run out of toilet paper at one point, but that small panic was easily remedied by a quick trip to Ingles.) As the community grew, so did the love.
But back to the lowly Sycamore. The time in the cabin flew by in its fullness. Soon it was the day before the wedding rehearsal and still no tree. I began to Google nurseries and make inquiries. After several calls, it became clear that Sycamores weren't much in demand in the Asheville area. In fact, they were considered almost weedlike, a "trash tree" nuisance because of their "proclivity for self-pruning." One nursery, however, invited us to come out. They had a large Sycamore on their grounds, which meant that Sycamore seedlings were cropping up everywhere. There might be a few around that had escaped their latest application of Roundup.
While enroute, I happened to remember Guy's "promise." So I called him in the off chance he'd remembered to find a Sycamore. He didn't answer--no big surprise there, given how busy he stays. So I
left a message: "Gus, I don't expect you to remember the promise you made to find a Sycamore, even though we sealed it in blood. I know you have far more important things to think about, big
ideas and big meetings with big churches and big people to tend to. But if you happened to remember your little friend and his son's puny wedding, and your big vow to find a Sycamore, call me
back." (My memory's not what it once was, but I'm pretty sure this capture's the gracious, non-manipulative manner of my message.)
Guy called back immediately. Yes, he'd travelled the globe in his quest for the lowly Sycamore. Yes, the memory of his promise had burned throughout his odd-yssey, as he visited one nursery after another and met with rejection and ridicule. Finally, after weeks of scouring the Blue Ridge Mountains, he ditched his Subaru for a rudderless coracle,* travelled the Seven Seas and one day found shore at the mysterious Isle of Sycamores. From there he hoofed it, as he is wont, till he found the one golden boutique nursery in this universe that carries Sycamores. It cost him everything. He became a man of constant sorrows. But, yes, he came through. He did indeed have a Sycamore. He placed it at our feet and fell prostrate before us.
That's the good news; then the bad: the beloved Sycamore looked pretty withered, "distressed" is how the nursery put it, though they assured him that, once planted, it would be just fine. One look and I knew we were in trouble. Take a gander for yourself (upper left): a dismal stick with a single sun-burnt brown leaf. Think of a "switch" your mom used to tan your hide when you were little but had somehow managed, in her eyes, to get too big for your britches. (What? Oh, so this never happened to you? Right.) Sure enough, it was to serve as a symbol, and even a raggedy flag can stir the heart. But this tree was exorbitantly ratty, so ratty that it had zero metaphorical possibility--and Guy agreed. We wound up running with the seedlings we'd rescued from Reemer's Nursery in Weaverville. They were young, green, and full of promise--apt symbols for a wedding.
I can be slow on the uptake. It wasn't until after the wedding that things began to add up. We all packed up our cars and said our goodbyes. The cabin that had been our home, stood empty, awaiting the next guests. There, in the middle of the driveway, stood the picked-over Sycamore, the butt of our jokes, about to be left behind. I picked it up by the pot. Its last leaf fell to the ground. Our Jetta was packed to the gills. "What you gonna do with that?" someone asked.
It'll ride all the way back to St. Louis, leaning back snug in the backseat between us. It'll be planted in our backyard, maybe near the chicken coop. It'll be watered and fertilized and, if needed, weeded. It'll weather and grow and leaf out. It'll remind me of Zak and Kathleen's love. One day it'll shelter my hens and inspire my heart. Chances are, it'll outlive my friend Gus and me. This gift of love will become a blessing. That's what.
*This point is contested by Guy, who claims that he rode a "high-powered jet ski." You be the judge.