Written on March 2nd 2011
There was solid rock under my back, a faded brown carved stone half a meter in diameter. My back rested on the flat top made for sitting, There were ten stones arranged in a circle around a central pit fenced with the same material, all surrounding the tree. They weren’t stones really, they were concrete blocks shaped into a blocky shape that would’ve seemed like a granite mesa to a passing ant. It was quite comfortable on the stone.
It was a beautiful Indonesian afternoon, with a warm sun shining down from a light blue sky tinged with patches of hazy cloud. I didn’t know what dragged me to lie on this piece of rock, or compelled me to stay in this miniature Stonehenge, but I did know that I like this place. Something about this place could make me feel safe and at peace, something I’ve had problems with all my life.
The feelings I now had for this place never occurred to me before, and it’s strange because I always had spent some time in it. It was a sitting area in the gardens of my senior high school, a circle of rocks under the shade of a tall tree. Flanked on all sides by the white green buildings of the school, it provided a small patch of ragtag nature amidst the artificial.
The tree was not the most majestic of trees. It was what I would call a grandfather tree, tall and old enough to inspire a sense of wonder and awe, and yet fragile and reachable as to not leave us agape. A dark earthy color dominated its features, accentuated by flaky skins of brown as it reached upwards; lighter brown peeked out where the darker flakes of its cousin had fallen off.
It had little leaves until you reached the last edges of its branches, and then it sprouted out a dense umbrella of green that shimmered in the sunlight. White rays of light would dance past the jumble of leaves and cause you to close your eyes against the glare should it pass over you. When the wind blew against it the branches would rock in rhythm. First on the windy side and from there onwards to the next; like a Mexican wave of Brazilian football supporters, minus the Latin.
Why this place makes me feel what I feel I don’t know. Maybe it’s the way the wind could make me smile as it twirled the branches in its fingers and made the light tiptoe unto my eyes. Or how a leaf would fall, tumbling and spinning in the air as it glided down towards the concrete earth. It could be none of that, yet it could be all of it at the same time.
I have spent many hours under this tree, long stretches of no activity other than just lying down to stare and listen to the sounds around me. There would be the rustling of the tree as it shifted, and the telltale gust that air makes when it streams from one place to another. There would be other noises too. The honking and rumble of traffic just outside the school, the occasional airliner or a honk from the horn of an angry motorist, I have little problem with these.
What I did find disturbing is that during these stints I found the sound of people very annoying, harsh, abrasive and unnatural. It did not fit in to any of the other sounds; neither did it follow a pattern that all the other noises followed. Worse still was that I understood what was being said. Understanding, clear meaning and messages suddenly became enemies of my wandering mind. It yanks me back into reality when I least wanted it, gave certainty when I was floating on acceptance and wonder.
I conclude that the reason I hated having to listen to intelligible voices at these moments is because they bring me back to a harsh fact that I have had very little escape from the last few months. I have spent the better part of a year pulling myself in from the world, hoping to be able to let go when that year was done. I guess a good part of my life story would revolve around my pulling my real comfort zone in deeper and deeper with each year, occasionally expanding it and contracting it again in response to certain events.
The doctrine of utilitarianism is one that I am familiar with. And though I am an ardent supporter of it, my backing simply fails to manifest itself into concrete actions in this category. Maybe this tree is an escape, as safe haven for me from having to confront matters that I need to deal with. But is not the solution for everyone in the end, a safer haven? There will always be problems, many that are solve-able and many that are not. How does anyone confront an unbeatable enemy than by hiding?
So passes another hour that I have spent under the tree, walled off from everyday voices and worries. I did not regret having wasted an entire afternoon doing nothing but sitting and thinking, I quite enjoyed it actually. But reality is an obsessive hunter and now she is once again on my tail, as she always was and will be. I have an appointment with a friend in thirty minutes and I don’t want to be late. And now I must leave my safe haven under the green shade of this grandfather tree.