and the olive tree grows
When I was in my twenties and an art student in Italy, every day over the course of several years I would walk past this tree, which lived in a quiet corner of an alley beside the Uffizi museum. In this spot, about a decade before I arrived, a terrorist attack occurred, and a bomb was detonated by the Sicilian mafia. Five people were killed, and the buildings around were significantly damaged, and art works were lost. Several years later, the buildings restored, instead of a new sculpture being placed to memorialize the event, an olive tree was placed at this site, and that for a very specific reason. Olive trees can sustain incredible damage, and lose a significant portion of their mass, and yet they can still recover. Slowly, they will draw from what is left of themselves to create themselves anew. Nothing could better symbolize Florence’s determination to move on than such a living monument. This tree meant very much to me, and sometimes I would sit beside it and reflect on this theme.
A year and five months ago, I suffered the greatest loss of my life, watching the culmination of my entire life’s work disintegrate. Everything fell apart.
But, the olive tree grows.
I’ve moved into a new studio, I’ve received a number of nice commissions, I’ve better learned how to use my art form to help others in need, I built a new teaching website, I helped to found an international art project which is swiftly gaining momentum. Here and there, I do some small spackle jobs to help float my family as my art career regains momentum.
I’m currently in a park in Huntington Station, waiting for the third coat to dry at a nearby spackle job, and I am looking out on a field as I eat lunch and read. I’m grateful that I have the ability to work, grateful to have the mass remaining so that I am able to move forward. But I won’t deny that the remains of the blast, at the hands of those who sought to impart destruction, still sometimes reverberates through this frame, a phantom pang that reminds me of what humans are capable of, of the beauty they destroy, when they choose to be their very worst.
If I were to examine the springing, lithe line of a young olive sapling, and if I were to compare my present self with that, I could grow jealous, or even resentful. But I have a master pruner, and he leans over my branches every day, and though it is difficult to come to terms with, he knew when he planted me that one day a storm would split me in half and expose the very marrow of my being. But he continues to prune, nurses what is, and causes new growth to quickly capitalize on old growth, and an entirely new calligraphy of form springs forth. The master gardener loves me, and though I don’t understand, I trust him, and were I given the choice I would not exchange this reformation of my form for the unsullied lines that never knew what the world is.
I’ve heard that there was once, within the grove, a betrayal that was the most grievous of all. The gardener had to, himself, become one of the olive trees, allow himself to be torn and ripped out by the roots, in order that the entire grove be saved. I’m told his tree is now alive in the center of the garden, just beyond my eye sight, and though I’ve never seen it I know it’s there.
Perhaps all of this happened to me in order that I might know, to the smallest extent, what the master gardener himself went through.
And so my olive tree grows, for the delight of the Master Gardener and all who enter his garden.
“The would not find me changed from him they knew, only more sure of all that I thought was true.” -Robert Frost