I took this photo while out walking my dog Claude, a couple of weeks ago. At first glance, it’s a pretty normal autumnal scene: an old tree, covered in lichen and ivy, surrounded by fallen leaves.
But look closer and you’ll notice something extraordinary. The tree has a barbed wire fence, consisting of three separate pieces of wire, running straight through the centre of its trunk.
I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I saw it. And it’s not an optical illusion, the wire really does go straight through and come out the other side. Judging by the height and breadth of the tree, I’d say it must be at least 50 years old, possibly more.
Over the following week, this image kept coming back to me. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that there are many important lessons to be learnt from this tree.
Judging by the height of the fence, the growing tree would have first encountered the barbed wire when it was still quite small. The presence of a physical barrier could have caused it to alter its path, or stunted its growth altogether. But instead, the tree was strong enough to grow through the obstacle. Not only has it grown around the barbed wire, but it has gone on to become one of the tallest trees in the forest.
In my time as a leader in the homelessness sector, I’ve faced numerous obstacles blocking personal and organisational growth. A difficult HR issue which takes up an inordinate amount of time; a disagreement which threatens to end a fruitful partnership; the impact of a deadly pandemic.
The temptation is often to take the path of least resistance; to divert path, change the plan and do whatever it takes to make the problem disappear. But this not the route taken by this tree, It took on the obstacle and grew through it.
It made me reflect on the difficulties I have faced at work. And it challenged me to be more courageous, to have faith in myself and in doing what is right. To continue with the intended course whatever obstacles or problems I encounter.
I don’t know much about the anatomy of a tree. Presumably at first the barbed wire cut straight through the tree’s bark, as it was growing up and around it. But in time, it healed itself around the wire. I know a tree does not ‘feel pain’, but I find this remarkable.
Personally, I’ve had a really tough few years. After finally summoning the courage to leave an emotionally abusive marriage in late 2019, I continued to be coercively controlled post-separation.
My natural tendency is to try to put “nasty stuff” in metaphorical boxes and stash them away where they can’t be seen. I tried to do this at first, thinking I could just carry on with life as normal. But several months later, the after-effects started to kick in. I had daily anxiety and lost all my confidence, to the extent where I even had to leave my job.
Since then, I’ve sought professional therapy which has helped me to deal with the issues. I’m happy to say the anxiety has now gone. I’m now in a new job I love and starting out on an exciting new relationship.
In future, instead of squirrelling the past away, I’m going to try to learn the lessons from this tree.
I will ’embrace the barbed wire’ and the reality of the difficult things that have happened. And with this comes faith that I’m tough enough to endure what I have experienced, and that over time (and it does take time), I will heal around it.
Lucy Horitz is Senior Learning and Development Manager at Homeless Link