Friday, November 11, 2011

There’s a Tree on My Roof—and It’s All Good

by Zinta Aistars

My son was hanging out in the driveway when I got home from work. He looked like he was just out there enjoying the first stars of the evening. It had taken me a little longer to get home from work, as high winds had tossed me around on the Interstate all the way home. He waited until I got out of the car, pulling my briefcase off the passenger seat.

“There’s a tree on the roof.”

I blinked, looked at him, took in his perfectly calm, slightly bored countenance. Nothing rattles that guy.

“There’s a tree on the roof,” I repeated after him, trying it on for size, then looked past him at the roof of the house. It was dark already, but I saw no tree.

He nodded his head toward the opposite end of the house. “Over there.”

Uh-oh. He’s serious. I dropped my briefcase next to the car and followed him to the other side of the house. Sure enough, there was a tree on the roof. The tree on the west side of the house had not been able to resist a dance in the high winds and had taken a topple across the roof, splitting the soffit, cracking the roof along its middle, knocking over the chimney.

I pursed my lips, then let loose a long sigh. That was a new roof, just installed a little over a year ago. Ruined. Then again, hmmm, yes, that was a new roof, just installed a little over a year ago, and if it hadn’t been, considering the condition of the previous roof, that tree could have been decorating my living room. For all of that nasty crack down the middle of the roof, what looked like split rafters, the new roof had held.

My son and I stood side by side for a while, looking at the tree on the roof.

“What’s for dinner?”

“Oh,” I shrugged. “I’ll find something. I bought some smoked chops from that farm this week, grass fed.”

“Pig is pig.”

“Oh, but this was a happy pig, rolling in mud and sniffing fresh air in the barnyard.”



He went back to work in the garage, and I went inside to sizzle some pork chops. Those manly appetites, I thought, those keep us on an even keel no matter how big the storm.

Filing a claim online came next. Paying out the deductible would ouch a bit, but this was one of those moments when it made sense to have good home insurance. I prepared myself for a number of phone calls, papers to process, tree service and roofer calls to make, but all in all, my perspective was positive.

I’d been to hear a talk at work during my lunch hour that day. It was a talk given by Ridley Barron, a minister who now talked more at hospitals and seminars than he did at churches. He had a special story to tell. About seven years ago, on a day like any other, Barron and his family—three young children and his wife—were in the family van driving across town. Someone ran a red light. At a high rate of speed, that car ran into the side of the Barron family van. The entire family suffered injuries, but his wife died while still in the car, and his youngest son, only 17 months old, was seriously injured, although expected to live.

What happened next made this tragedy almost unbearable. Between making funeral arrangements for his wife and checking on his other children, Barron visited his little boy at the hospital. The little guy was suffering but the prognosis was hopeful. When Barron left his little boy in the hospital, he never thought that would be the last time he would see him alive. That is, he would see him again, not long after, when a hospital staff person would call him back, but at that point someone would be massaging the boy’s heart through an open wound to keep him technically living until his daddy arrived.

It was hard to listen to that story. A hospital error—a pharmacist who mistakenly prepared an adult dosage of medicine for the toddler that would instantly stop his heart when administered—had taken his tender young life. He’d survived a horrific accident only to succumb to a tragic mistake. Barron now had to bury two family members.

The story was not just to make the audience cry—which it did. As we listened and watched the slides of the sweet, smiling faces on the overhead screen, we heard a story about healing, about forgiveness, about keeping hope alive when everything is falling down on your head.

Ridley Barron was able to forgive that pharmacist the very day that her mistake took his son’s life. Knowing that she had made an honest mistake, not a malicious one, no doubt helped. He was a preacher, after all, and if there was ever a test of faith, well, this would surely qualify. I imagine there were darker moments, too, when that human shadow side we all have must have won out, at least momentarily giving him doubts, making him wonder “why me?” and pour all the rest of human emotional chaos over him that we all surely suffer through when we take such a hard hit in life.

Today, he travels across the nation talking at hospitals about how to prevent such errors, how to treat patients and their families during such testing circumstances, and other valuable lessons of life. It was an hour well spent.

That hour also gave me great perspective when I got home from work that evening to find a tree on my roof. The roof had held. No one was hurt—although my pets were awfully happy to see me come home and give them reassuring snuggles. I can only imagine the noise they’d heard that day.

It was all just … stuff. Housing materials. Money. Sure, I’d miss that cash that had taken some time to save, but it was, after all, only money. I’d heard once that if you consider a problem in life, if it can be solved with money, even if you don’t have that money on hand, it’s not really a problem. That’s a bit simplistic, especially if you are without the cash, but I get the point. I have lived in poverty, and yes, folks, money does indeed buy happiness. It buys freedom, it buys opportunities, it buys peace of mind. If you’ve had to do without, you really learn to appreciate that.

I’ve also learned to appreciate true values in my life. I don’t care about fashion. I drive an older car with 135,000 miles on it. I live in a humble little house. I don’t own a big-screen TV. I’m working hard to achieve zero debt. I can spare that deductible. I am blessed.

I have a tree on my house, and what I later learn are four cracked rafters and 14 feet of ruined soffit and a bashed up chimney and a roof that is pretty much snapped in half—but it’s holding over my head while I await repairs. I also have a son sitting down to dinner with me, a daughter living not so far away whose life is in full bloom on all fronts, parents who are hanging in there even as the years roll bigger and bigger numbers over them. I have excellent health. I have work I enjoy. I have a network of friends that add sizzle and snap to my every day. I have my pets to snuggle. I have a fresh, new book manuscript to prepare for submission. What else? Oh , a long list yet …

I’ll miss that tree. It gave my house shade in the hot summer. Next spring, I will plant another, and return the blessing. I appreciate trees.

I appreciate all the many moments of life. Each one could be the last. You just never know when a car might come racing through a red light, or a tree fall from the sky. Today matters.


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  2. Thank goodness no one got hurt and you only needed to spend on the replacement of the roof. Well, if you do decide to put plant a new tree there, I hope it would be much stronger.

    Chantay Smithingell

  3. So sorry to hear about your roof! Hope repairs have gone smoothly. That story about Ridley Barron and his family is so sad - a real tear-jerker. The death of a child is always particularly hard to hear about. Forgiveness is definitely important, but I still hope Barron talked to medical malpractice lawyers. At the very least, he could receive help paying for the costs associated with his son's wrongful death. In any case, his story is tragic and he sounds like a very strong man for sharing it with the world.

  4. Have you planted another tree already? I hope you planted it somewhere far enough from your house so it won’t cause any damage to your roof in the near future. Good luck on your tree planting!

    -Kip Whitehead

    1. Actually, Kip, I moved out of this house about a year ago, although it's still my property ... now a rental property. And the tree is long gone. :-)

  5. What an optimistic lady you are! Oh, so you’re now leasing the property? That’s cool! You can surely generate extra income from that. But where do you live now? Anyway, it’s good to hear that the tree was long gone. No offense to trees, but they can do significant damage to your roof, even with just their leaves and debris. Though, I would love to see a new tall and sturdy tree planted somewhere where your roof won’t get damaged. -Kermit Lukacs