Pruning, growing, passing

There are stories of people growing into their destiny. “The Hero’s Journey” is probably the oldest story type, and it will continue to be told. Some of these are fantastical tales of people who gain abilities, powers, special items, favored companions. Some of these are tales of sacrifice, leaving behind loved ones, childish hopes, even optimism in the face of the reality before them.

In the front yard there were three trees. Now there are two, as one grew so much that the roots broke into the sewage tap and cost a pretty hefty replacement. I cut that one down then dug around the roots and cut the stump down below the ground line. Now fresh grass grows on top of where it used to be, hiding the evidence of its existence from the world.

The second tree, a beautiful dwarf maple variety, grew a branch that began to overhang the power line feeding the house. That branch was pruned.

The third tree grows close to the driveway, and was not properly pruned for years before we moved in. Vertical “water sprouts” have thickened and entangled the canopy. My oldest son likes that tree, so I’ll probably give it a thorough pruning next March. Clean out the canopy, remove the entangled branches, give it better airflow.

It means nothing, but a friend of mine was lamenting at how we wear all our ribbons on our dress uniform, and not just a few as GEN Eisenhower did. Sometimes less is more in men’s fashion, as Patton had a distinctly opposing view on how much military bling should be worn by a general officer in the US Army. As the discussion went on, people argued over the validity of awards, some given out for little more than showing up, some acts of service and valor ignored because of an indifferent command, shoddy paperwork, or combination of the two. But it got me to thinking, every tiny piece of cloth I put on my rack represents a bit of my life given in exchange. What should be pruned out? Not the campaign medals, those should probably stay even if they are simply “I was there” awards. The awards that are ribbons only can go, for overseas service or professional development, as are the enlisted only medals for good conduct. In the end I could probably prune it down to four pieces of cloth that would let another servicemember have a quick look and understand a bit about where I went, even if it leaves out what I did there.

But getting back to the beginning of this post, about “The Hero’s Journey” I see a lot of veterans lose pieces of themselves along the way. I’m not talking about physical body parts, although that happens too, but more like how the intense training for a thoroughbred horse eventually leaves nothing that isn’t a race horse, the act of service leaves nothing left but what is needed to do the mission, and just enough of themselves to stay sane or human. The experience prunes away what would have been, and leaves behind what is.

Eventually both the pruned and wild tree will be gone, and evidence of existence fading under new growth. And that is normal, how time is ruthless and cares nothing for cares, hopes, or dreams of mankind. The form of the tree is irrelevant, the medals you wear or don’t are irrelevant, and what is left that matters is the journey you take, and how you took it.

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