Education from the Storm: A Lesson in Caring for Others

“Hey Dad,” complimented my eight-year-old daughter. “That was a nice shot.”

“Yea,” I responded. “This is kinda fun.”

We were in our front yard during Colorado’s first snowstorm of the season. A powerful system had descended upon the Front Range and was dumping several inches of heavy, wet snow on our lawns, roads and of major concern to us, on two large and beautiful ash trees that dominate the scenery in front of our home.

These moisture-intensive storms that hit before the leaves have fallen, wreak havoc with Colorado’s trees. Many tree branches snap under the unexpected weight of the heavy and clingy precipitation. Rachel and I were throwing, respectively, a soccer ball and basketball into the trees to try and knock some of the snow off the branches to save them from snapping. I had nailed one branch that was bent over near its breaking point and freed it from the weight of the slushy substance.

Many times earlier in the day I had taken a broom and knocked snow from low-hanging branches but this “throw the ball’s into the trees” act was something I had never tried. In fact, I had just been introduced to the concept a few hours before while driving home from work and spotting a neighbor doing the same with her trees.

It was turning into quite the enjoyable way to spend some time in the season’s first snowfall while doing something darn productive: saving these wonderful trees which are not that plentiful along the Centennial State’s Front Range because of our dry climate.

Grab the basketball, hurl it into the trees; do it again; and again; and again. Throwing a basketball into the trees to expunge the snow began to take me on a trip down memory lane to the days of throwing a football or baseball at the intended target. I began to imagine the chosen distressed limb was a wide receiver awaiting a pass, or the catcher crouched and ready for the arrival of a throw from the outfield: accuracy was of utmost importance.

“Dad,” squealed Rachel, her school sweatshirt soaked from the snow. “I finally hit that branch!”

As I chased down the basketball after an errant toss – hey, not ALL were accurate – another thought hit me like a frozen snowball: here we were, outside in the freezing weather, braving the elements, because we cared about the welfare of two ash trees? Is that crazy? Or could it be a reminder of another great lesson of life?

Without our attention, those trees were in serious danger of losing some major branches. We had to take action to prevent them from snapping. It made me think of relationships. Our personal, professional and civic-minded relationships that so often feel the strain similar to a branch laboring beneath heavy snow. Are we so quick to respond in a way that will relieve the stress? Are we conscious of the burdens that may exist?

It was glaringly obvious our two ash trees were stressed. But how could we become more attune to recognizing signs of strain within our cherished relationships, before they fracture into pieces?

I kept thinking about this as I continued to fire the basketball into the trees. Another thought popped into my head as well. Sometimes in relationships it’s a real challenge to offer help because there’s the feeling distressed individual created the breaking-point predicament; “Why should I help them?”

These defenseless trees were under assault from Mother Nature. It was quite easy to respond. It’s quite a different story isn’t it, when our gut feeling is telling us we’re betraying our own self good, by assisting others?

Where do we draw the line in trying to save a relationship that is on the verge of snapping under the heavy weight of mistrust, doubt or fear?

We’re taught in many different ways, languages and beliefs to be “gentle and forgiving” toward others but when could that possibly mean you would be crossing the line of not being “gentle and considerate” of yourself?

Bam. Another direct hit brings slushy snow tumbling off the branches. Whoops! Another errant throw sends the basketball across the street.

Another thought pops into my head. Perhaps the answer to knowing when to respond or not is common sense. An anecdote might be the elderly neighbor just a few days removed from heart surgery. They should not be out there throwing a basketball into trees in a rescue attempt; they would need to ask for help.

Perhaps the same is true in life. Sometimes when you know it’s compromising your mental, physical or emotional well being, you should ask someone else to help. You don’t have to ignore the problem, but you understand it would be even more damaging, like the heart patient exerting too much effort, for you to provide assistance.

If that’s not the case, grab the basketball ball and start firing away. The effort to help a friendship, business association or intimate relationship from breaking is well worth getting a little soaked and damp because the warmth that emanates from within might go a long ways toward reducing any relationship chill.

“Dad,” my daughter announced. “It’s 10:30. Time to go rent a movie.”

I was snapped from my other world. As I walked into the house and tossed all our damp clothes into the dryer, I was hit with a strong sense of gratitude; for the lady who taught me the ball trick; for my daughter’s help; for the reminder to one of life’s great lessons: care for one another.

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