Yesterday the sight of Rubin’s picture book, leaning against my desk amongst its assorted fellows, occasioned me some chagrin. I had checked it out from the library weeks (months?) ago, intending to compose a collective review of books about distinguished trees.
That article is still waiting to be written, and only yesterday did it occur to me that a solo review of This Very Tree would be well suited to the twenty-second anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Alas, it was rather late in the day to compose a thoughtful review.
But it comes to me that the day after might be just as appropriate. After all, author-illustrator Rubin offers a chronicle of regrowth and persistence that picks up after the events of 9/11. It’s a story about carrying on in the wake of disaster.
Could any of us fail to benefit from such a theme? In September 2021, the twentieth anniversary of the historic attacks, the world was still reeling from the pandemic. Its aftermath, climate change, global conflict, and socio-political unrest are just a few contributors to the current, oft-cited mental health crisis.
And it isn’t limited to young people. In the past week alone, multiple friends have attested to a heightened sense of stress and anxiety in the past few months. At a gathering of local editors last week, the presenter (a humorist, as it happens) cited the statistic that stress levels increased seventy-five percent on average during the pandemic, and for most people they haven’t come back down. I don’t know how one quantifies such things, but the report accords subjectively with my experience.
Which brings us back to This Very Tree. Rubin’s moving account is narrated by what has come to be known as the Survivor Tree. This Callery pear was buried in the rubble when the Twin Towers fell. When it was unearthed weeks later, it was carted away to a nursery for rehabilitation. After nine years it was replanted at Ground Zero. The tree still thrives, and communities around the world that have undergone tragedy have received seedlings sprouted from it.
Rubin, a New Yorker, was in tenth grade at the time of the attacks. The first-person voice of the Survivor Tree is well suited to an author so closely situated to the events. His nuanced illustrations of the architectural and natural beauty of New York convey not only proficiency but feeling.
This Very Tree summons up my own love for trees in all their scientifically stunning materiality, as well as for all they symbolize. God’s story opens with a tree at the center of a garden, and it ends with a tree at the center of the New Creation. The leaves of this Tree of Life “are for the healing of the nations.” It is, among other things, an emblem of hope.
When drawn toward despair of late, I try to remind myself that “love always hopes” (as stated by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13). But I have to ask, hopes in what? A reversal of climate change? Personal growth? An end to global conflict?
These are certainly to be hoped for. But the surest thing that comes to mind is hope grounded in Love itself. Because Paul went on to say that “Love”—the ultimate Love—”never fails.” I don’t know what that will ultimately look like, but I have to believe it’s true.
May the Survivor Tree encourage us to cling to Love, the source of all life, and to hope. Even in the midst of ruin. And may we, to the extent we are able, like the Tree, disseminate hope to others.