Have you ever noticed that, when you have a chance to come upon them again as an adult, most things from childhood appear much smaller? I remember the length of dirt road from my house to my grandmother's. It might as well have been a marathon to walk down there (in reality, it was 26.1 miles shorter than that distance) I can recall the grandness of certain houses and buildings. Our church, for instance- it seemed like the brick sprawled on forever. The number of rooms may have equaled Versailles. Now I see it and realize that it is just a little church, with a smallish congregation. The kind of place where you could say "good morning" to most of the congregation in the course of a Sunday service- a rarity in these days of mega churches with three services and thousands of members. One more recollection and then I'll make my point. I remember swinging on the swingset in the yard of that (what I now understand to be little) church, enthralled but also gripped in fear because I was so far off the ground. Falling off would probably bring me to my death. At the very least, I would break every bone, which honestly sounded worse than dying. Have you swung on a swingset lately? Chances are, it's not exactly the death-defying feat it was when you were younger. I realize that I can jump off and barely sail through a foot of air before both feet land soundly. Not too much of a thrill ride, but fun just the same.
With this in mind, it's a pleasant surprise to walk along that once-gravel road from my mom's house to my grandmother's and see that something is actually bigger than it was in my childhood. The water oaks and long-leaf pines that line this leafy lane possess a dignity they lacked thirty years ago, when my parents built their house at the end of the drive. I walk slowly, putting one foot before the other without thinking about my steps, my mind absorbed by the height of these neighbors of mine. A storm is brewing, another reminder of childhood summer afternoons in North Carolina. The breeze courses through their boughs, which seem impossibly far from me. I can't help but imagine that they are waving to me, "Welcome home."
Fayetteville is a city that changes so much from year to year. So many people come and go, buildings are built and vacated. Businesses try and fail. People PCS and others change schools, neighborhoods, churches. Austin is a changing city, too, rapidly expanding, becoming fat with people and cars and money, while trying hard (and for the most part, succeeding) at keeping its cool edginess and friendliness. Sometimes it's fun and exciting to watch cities grow- new places to eat or shop or spend free afternoons. But sometimes it's exhausting- waiting in hours of traffic, realizing that there's yet another trendy spot that you've never even heard of, trying to keep up with it all.
So it's pleasant indeed to walk through these tall trees here, just a few miles outside of the city I grew up in, a city that's always changing, and pause to remember that growing older can also mean growing in dignity, beauty and strength. As these regal trees have reached toward the sky, their roots have gone in just the opposite direction, becoming more deeply rooted. Perhaps there is a lesson in that. A lesson about growing older peacefully, purposefully and with great grace.