By Nathan Eggleston
Years ago I took road trip with my family. It wasn’t your typical, joyous romp through city after city. This time around we were heading out to the Navajo reservation in Northern Arizona to pick up my grandfather who had just had a major stroke, the third in his relatively short life.
The trip was solemn and sad. No matter how much of an optimist you are you hate to see something bad happen to someone you love, or anyone for that matter. We tried to be chipper and happy but thinking of grandpa made that rather difficult. We drove across the deserts and mountains and through beautiful red rock canyons and deathly flat and desolate plains.
We arrived on the reservation and found grandma outside her trailer watering her little plants. She was cheerful and put on a good show, always the stoic woman. Through her smile we could see her pain and fear but most of all I think she was relieved that we were finally there. She had packed most her and grandpa’s belongings and was ready to get him to the hospital. Grandpa was sitting in his recliner, one side of his body was partially paralyzed and his speech was pretty slurred. But I can still remember what he said, “Hey, you guys finally made it!” We all tried so hard to be happy and pretend like nothing was wrong but grandpa was the only one who truly acted like everything was ok.
The reservation was more than four hours from the nearest decent medical center so we hooked up the trailer and got ready to go. We helped grandpa down the stairs and into the car where he would be more comfortable for the trip. Dad and I hooked the trailer up to the truck and we we’re ready to go.
On the road we didn’t talk much there was just too to think about. What’s going to happen to grandpa? What’s going to happen to grandma? Is he gonna get over this? What would it be like to loose a grandparent? I was only a teenager at the time and the thought of loosing someone that close to me was just incomprehensible.
When we stopped for lunch we all decided that it would be a great idea to head by the Grand Canyon and see one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Grandpa was even excited about it, even though Grandma was nagging at him and telling him he had to get to the hospital. It was only a brief detour and none of us had ever been there.
As we arrived at the park you can see from miles away the immense gorge that has been carved out over the millennia. We parked the car and all got out. I helped grandpa out then he latched on to my arm. “Walk me on over there so I can see this big old thing.” He said to me in his simple Idaho drawl and newly slurred speech.
We walked out to one of the many look-out points, some even made it feel like you were floating over the canyon. It was just breathtaking. But one thing fascinated me more than anything else. I stared down the canyon and on both sides there were trees growing out of what seemed like nothing. I turned to my family and asked “How on earth do those trees manage to grow like that and still stand?” My grandpa was one of the first to reply.
“We all grow up and do whatever it takes to survive. Some of those trees are so battered by the wind and torn apart by rocks that it’s a wonder that they survived at all. But no matter what happened their roots anchored them and gave them strength and their branches were full and grew towards the sun, no matter what. They may be twisted and tattered and barely hanging on but they’re upward turned and ever growing, always becoming stronger.”
In my young mind grandpa was only talking about the trees.
We got him to the hospital and grandpa pulled through just fine. He continued doing what he loved and brought us all closer together. As I grew older I started to learn more about trees and plants and began growing my own garden and tending to my own trees. I learned to love them for their strength and beauty and am often awe struck by their will to survive. But it wasn’t until recently that I reflected on that lesson that my grandpa taught me at the rim of the Grand Canyon.
This past December grandpa had another stroke, his fifth and his last. I went and paid him a visit on the first day in the hospital. He spoke to me with such kind words. We talked about the garden that I had helped him and grandma plant in their front yard. He couldn’t stop bragging to the nurses about how beautiful it was. That was one of the last things that my grandpa said to me. On the night he passed I sat by his bed and talked to him and told him how much I loved him and then he was gone. Burying my grandfather was one of the hardest things that I have ever done and it made me think of his life and the lessons he taught.
That day by the edge of the Grand Canyon my grandpa was talking about more than just trees. As I think about those trees and how amazing they looked and how firm and strong they stood I wonder what my life will look like in the end. Not all of us have life easy. Not all of us are planted in the shade and protection of a mighty forest. Some fall between the cracks but grow far beyond that place. Some of us teeter on the edge and dig in and make a place to live. Others have every challenge in the book thrown at them from the day they start to grow and yet they still manage. A few are blown every direction and have a hard time getting their roots in but when they do it’s a sight to see.
Like a noble tree we all grow up in the face of untold adversity. But no matter what happens our roots; our family, our faith, our friends anchor us and give us strength and our branches; our deeds, our thoughts, our lessons left behind are upward turned and grow towards the sun; our dreams and our goals, toward goodness and betterment. So when you feel battered and beaten and are barely hanging on, when life is throwing its winds at you and you’re struggling to survive think of the trees at the edge of the canyon upward turned and ever growing, always becoming stronger.