“You can see who is doing what when you look at the exterior of a tree. What you see is the outer layer of bark, which is dead and forms an impervious exterior shell. This outer layer of bark also happens to be a good way of telling different species apart. This works for older trees, anyway, for the distinguishing characteristics have to do with the shapes of the cracks or, you could say, with the folds and wrinkles in a tree’s skin. In young trees of all species, the outer bark is as smooth as a baby’s bottom. As trees age, wrinkles gradually appear (beginning from below), and they steadily deepen as the years progress. Just how quickly the process plays out depends on the species. Pines, oaks, birches, and Douglas firs start early, whereas beeches and silver firs stay smooth for a long time. It all depends on the speed of shedding.” – Peter Wohlleben, “The Hidden Life of Trees,” 2015.
Much like trees, human beings as they age, grow wrinkles. Those who are constantly in renewal, shedding their old selves, and fostering new growth, hardly show wrinkles and instead, reveal a smooth face in their aging process.
Hard to believe, but take a look at seniors aging and you will see various phases and faces of wrinkles.
Perhaps the wrinkles in one’s aging hands are symbolic of what an aging person goes through. Or the lack of wrinkles on one’s forehead as she or she ages suggests a high rate of renewal, a shedding perhaps of the exterior skin, to reveal the smooth underneath.
Process of shedding
Suppose one retains the past hurts as if backpacks carried to the present, can you envision an aging senior much like a tree with a thick exterior bark, not capable of letting the past hurts go, but building up layers upon layers, as one grows old?
“Pines and the like, however, drag their feet when it comes to external makeovers,” Peter Wohlleben wrote.
He contrasted pines to beeches, “whose silver-gray bark remains smooth until they are two hundred years old, the rate of renewal is high. Because of this, their skin remains thin and fits their age—that is to say, their girth—exactly and, therefore, doesn’t need to crack in order to expand.”
It is why one must do a thorough examination of what one has gone through in several life stages. Who opened doors for us to get us to where we are today? What hurts must we purge? What failings must we forgive ourselves?
In writing about the inspiring lives of Filipino and Filipina Americans, other Asians and Italian Americans who have become friends to Filipino musicians, after writing 582+ articles, these 31 subjects taught me how to live a life of joy with an inner reservoir of sparkling joy.
First, they shed their past hurts and retained the lessons of their challenges. Instead of accumulating the grievances, they became like the beeches, renewing their interior selves, keeping their hearts clean, connecting to humanity, and restored the sparkles in their eyes.
How? Perhaps by first finding the truth of their misery, what was it truly rooted in? Listening perhaps to the wisdom of a true friend who will not pass judgment on their miseries and to consider forgiveness for themselves as well as others who may have failed them?
Others insist on an inventory, an elephant mind that retains all details, and working through the minutiae of details, and what went wrong. That makes for a more in-depth healing if the negatives are replaced by a new rewriting of those past chapters, affirming the love shown to them.
Others retain an overview, overlooking the details, to rush through a superficial healing, until the next challenges or triggers come along which create an unintended response, an inappropriate reaction which causes a spiral back to the hurtful past, prompting more repeated patterns in the present.
Unless we do an exhaustive review of what we have gone through, our consciousness is partly triggered by hurts of the past, and not by present moments.
We all must undergo this process of shedding and rigorous examination if we are to approach our growth and aging process looking forward to a new zest for life.
After the rigorous reflection, we are left to ponder the blessings of the Creator in our lives. We are left to approach intentionally our passions. To some, it is music arrangements. To others, it is writing, like this writer who has penned over 560 articles now. To others, it is travel to national parks and seven continents of the world. Still others, it is woodworking or attending to a hobby long overlooked, like a painting.
But while we engage ourselves in pursuing our personal passions, our lives do not magically become lives of substance unless we are engaged in our common humanity and we are serving others. Service is our connection to someone else’s humanity. Disengage with another and we are full of sadness.
I was asked by a single mother “from all the articles you wrote on art, spirituality, future, progress, politics, what is that one singular lesson that you can give me?” I was struck by how comprehensive that question was, reaching back to when I had come of age of reason at age six to now a lola.
“To care enough about another human being and to love deeply to help them achieve their dreams,” I told her.
But it is not everybody, as you personally do not have that capacity, but choose one or a few that you would help, I should have added.
I forgot to tell her, “it is to insert herself into this beautiful tree of humanity, in all its shapes, colors and textures, almost like that enviable living spot woven into the bark of a tree, preferably not the thicker barks of the oaks that do not shed often, but one beech tree whose gray bark reveals the smooth skin until they are two hundred years old.” She then said, “It is why I chose her, pointing to her young daughter.”
As Oprah said eloquently, paraphrasing what she spoke of, that we can accumulate thousands of shoes, thousands of Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo or Gucci, but until we live a life of substance, that our lives have an impact on at least one single life, we have not lived a life that matters.
Not every tree sheds in the same way! May we lose our exterior barks more often so as to renew ourselves, give our lives to others, so we can engage more human beings and make a difference in their lives, as well as ours.
I watched Dick Van Dyke, almost 92 years old sing with the 75-member LA Lawyers Philharmonic and 82-member Legal Voices and he was still limber and could dance and sing three songs. After, he told the audience that he enjoyed every minute of it. He was singing and dancing and performing to help raise funds for the indigents who could not afford to pay for their legal services. Would you still matter to someone’s life at age 92?
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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.