Five years ago this time I was scaling my Tree of Good and Evil. I have referred to that tree and other situations as my Tree of Life. Today, as I offer some meandering and pointed comments about that day and that tree and what followed, I hope to explain a little bit more about why I call that tree by either name. As I do so, I plead for your compassion and your understanding. There are mistakes that I have made in my life and that make me quite human. Oh, that it were not so! Oh, I wish that I could say that I were a more perfect. I hope that when you read this, you will find a place in your heart to forgive me for my imperfections and search by words for trail markers that may help you in your hike through life.
It is with a broken heart and a contrite spirit that I explain to you how I can consider that tree as my Tree of Good and Evil. There is a mention in my patriarchal blessing that I would like to share with you, "If you will pay strict observance to The Word of Wisdom, the Evil One will have no power over you." As many of you know that for a time priorcontrol a to climbing my Tree of Good and Evil, I did not pay "strict observance" to the Word of Wisdom. This created the opportunity for the influence of the "Evil One" in my life. Prior to my fall, my life was in a great deal of chaos. I think that's the chaos was created by the struggle between righteousness and evil in my life. I had given myself over to that condition voluntarily and for a reason. The reason was clear. I shall leave that for another post, another day. I understood some of the consequences when I set my foot on that path and voluntarily disobeyed the Word of Wisdom. But I did not and could not have foreseen the magnificent consequence that the Tree of Good and Evil brought to me.
That tree, I believe, is neither good nor evil. But, interestingly, it can be the source and the reflection of both good and evil. I brought to that tree my disobedience, thus allowing the tree to be my conduit and reflection of evil. I climbed to a comfortable perch which was entirely adequate for what I was doing, including taking pictures of the fall leaf colors and an owl that I had seen previously in that part of the woods. Although, by claiming that the tree seems rather innocent, there were several precursors that show the influence of the "evil one" that day. That day started three days earlier. I had not slept for probably 72 hours or more before I climbed the tree. The morning of climbing was a bright and beautiful Sunday morning, but I saw nothing but gray and dismay. I argued with my wife over petty things that were stuck as a moat in my eyes. I sat in the bathroom in my narcissistic and self-induced despair. Everyone else got ready for church and I decided not to go. As soon as they were gone, I collected my items for climbing the tree. I wanted to go higher than I had before so I took with me and old cotton clothes line that I found in the garage and had been saved over the years and used throughout countless tiedowns. I took my phone in case I wanted to continue the arguments. I took a long University of Missouri pillow that I could sit on and some other unnecessary but critical items. They all went into a small backpack that I could climb with. The tree was a beautiful tree. A large old-growth oak tree. It had many vines running up the tree and the tree slanted uphill. Because of its slant, many old branch knots, and the numerous vines, it was easy for me to scramble up to a nice high position. I sat for some time at that position. The sounds and the colors of fall were intensely satisfying. After listening for a while and taking some pictures, I was very invigorated. My strength and agility became my misconception. I saw a spot higher up the tree and it deceptively looked like a easy climb. I threw the rope up there and got is situated so that I could grab it on the last part of my climb. I started scaling the tree without any anchor except for gravity. I slipped and I was left hanging from the bottom side of the tree. I paused for a moment to collect my misconceptions. My grip was slipping. I had to make a choice. With my left hand, I was able to reach out and grab the rope. Then, through another cascade of misperceptions, I swing on the rope towards the tree pulling my right leg up to hook it over the edge of a branch. The plan was to use my right leg over the branch as a stabilizer and then pulled my way around to the top of the tree. My right knee, in fact, caught the branch just as I had planned, then the tree proceeded forth as a reflection of heavenly good. The branch broke, the rope broke at precisely the same time. Having my knee over the branch left my body in a head down position. I have often wondered why the momentum did not propel me into a flip so that I headed to the ground feet first? I am certain, now as I write this, that good one out over evil at that moment for me. I think that I blacked out because I do not remember any of the fall. But if I blacked out, it was only for a moment. I remember feeling my body hitting the ground with the tremendous thud and that my body paused for just a moment in that head down, feet up position. Then my body fell also and landed with another thud.
Of course, my first thought was that I needed to get up so I could go back up the tree and collect my things. But, for some reason that I did understand at the time, I could not bring myself back up. I remember thinking about that and wondering why and quickly answering myself that I must be in some sort of "shock" and that when I had gotten through that, I would just get up and go back up the tree. I think there is a hallmark marker for any Tree of Good and Evil which is that, if it truly is a Tree of Good and Evil, once you have partaken of its fruit, you cannot ascend the tree once again. You metaphorically die.
I may have gone in and out of consciousness lying bare upon the ground, I cannot say for sure. But, once again after the evil has been sent away, another cascade of good memories. I remember hearing my phone, which was on vibrate, at various times. I imagined that the phone calls were from my wife ( and I was right about that). Then my wife yelling for me off of the back of the porch. One time, I remember that she yelled that lunch was ready. I imagined that she was angry with me and that my lunch would be pork and beans or something like that. I was wrong and here follows some more good: she had taken her time and carefully prepared a Thai dish that was my favorite trying to open the door with forgiveness and kindness. I heard them sending our dog Freckles after me. He was a great dog, one of my favorites, but being a Dalmatian, he didn't understand our language and failed to find me. Perhaps an English setter would have been better! I try to respond to the calls, but my mouth kept filling with dirt and leaves and it seemed as if I couldn't return response. I decided to try to turn my head around to the other side and try yelling from there. It seemed to be much harder than I thought it should be to turn my head. But, once my head was turned, I could tell that I was in a better position to yell. I began yelling the words, "Help!". It seemed that even when I yelled as hard as I could, it was nothing more than a muffle. Once, in the middle of one of my efforts to yell, I began to feel a snake crawl over my head. A snake! I consciously tried to make my yell more quiet and in between yells for out, I blew out of the corner of my mouth with hopes that it would send a snake away. Eventually, the snake finished his crawl over my head and, as legend has it, curled itself up next to me to share my heat. A copperhead and, whether true or not, has given me more metaphor.
The evening arrived and the calls to my phone stopped. What also stopped were the periodic yells by my wife. When darkness fell, I am sure that I slipped in and out of consciousness. In one moment of consciousness though, I had a very strong feeling overwhelme me. I knew that if at that moment, I would just give up and stop trying, that I would die. I don't remember hesitating to think about it, but the thought appeared to me as a picture that I could pray and ask Heavenly Father for the one thing that I always kept as my desire. I prayed that my life may be spared so that while in mortal flesh I may repent of my evil sufficiently so that I might be returned to good.
It seems that almost immediately as I concluded that that my wife resumed her yelling for me. I could also hear someone else yelling and getting closer and closer to me. Then, in my mind and my spirit, I saw my daughters Hannah and Saren on their knees praying for my well-being. I heard someone standing over me. My friend Scott Slatten.standing above me with a bright light. At first, I thought he was playing games with me because he kept asking me if I could "feel" this or that. I'm sure the worst raced through his mind. In a last desperation, he grabbed my calf of my leg and squeezed it so hard that it later left a deep bruise. I felt nothing. I still didn't understand what this meant, but sure was glad to hear Scott and my wife. I drifted out of consciousness again and they called 911. I woke again when the paramedics were at my side and doing whatever kind of assessment that they do. Lots of lights shining bright in my eyes. I didn't follow what they were doing. Soon they gently turned me over onto a board and strapped my for head down to the board. I faded again while they carried me down a steep hill through a thick and dark forest. I next remember an open ambulance door, a kiss by my wife and a promise that she would see me at the hospital. Next, I felt them quickly pulling me out of the ambulance, more bright lights, the thunderous sound of helicopter blades a sound to which I still cringe this day). there is much that follows that helicopter ride to the state trauma center that one can find in my medical records if so inclined. Miracle following miracle. I remember getting my first blessing, many followed. Within my mind, perhaps induced by my medications, the war between good and evil in my life continue to play out. Brief moments of lucidity, I treasured. My family was precious and so caring. My heart continues to be filled with gratitude for all who extended themselves on my behalf. My wife was precious and her response to such sweeping and immediate changes were phenomenal. Good after good sustained me. During the nights and early mornings that I lie awake praying for understanding and answers to questions. Answers, some I wanted to hear, others I didn't came all the time.
To be more accurate, my wife reminds me that it is The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But, I believe that what played out in that tree, what followed, and went I experienced was much more than knowledge -- it truly was "good and evil". There is an account in the New Testament of Jesus cursing a figtree. Should I curse this tree, my Tree of Good and Evil? On the contrary, I believe, the tree should be blessed and respected for its role. I brought evil, my lack of obedience to the admonition given me in my patriarchal blessing, to the tree. That tree provided my crucible. Good and evil struggle with each other and, as we are promised, good one out. All things, not just some things, all things can work together for our good. We must want that, it must be the underflow current of our lives, it must be a vein that runs deep to our core.
That tree is also becoming My Tree of Life. The miracle is just in process and/or I have a lot of feelings about that process, I don't have the language to write about it yet. Perhaps, when I reach my 10 year anniversary!