The Simple Things

March 31, 2008
By Kristen Brown, Smithville, OH

There is a stone wall on the edge of a forest. Sometimes it looks as if time is standing still, but when looked at more closely, the leaves of the trees rustle and change. Wild animals come and go, and plants grow in the cracks between the rocks. Time doesn't stand still, even in the quietest of places.

It is 1920, and a small girl skips to her favorite tree, a sycamore. It is spring, and she sits on the stone wall, eating an apple and dreaming. When she's finished, she gently sets the apple core on the ground, and the ants nearby immediately begin to climb it. The girl smiles and hums as she walks up the grassy hill to her brick house.

It is 1950, and a rambunctious boy scampers along the edge of the forest, looking for insects. He kneels down in the dirt and finds a caterpillar, then picks it up in his hand and carries it to the house. He knows that his mother's Bell jars are waiting in the kitchen cupboard for him and that she won't mind one missing.

It is 1980, and a teenage girl is sitting on the stone wall with a notebook in her hand. She's writing a poem while her younger brother plays with his new leather football. A small, black terrier lays at the girl's feet and watches as the ball flies through the air. The forest is mostly cleared out because of a fire a few years ago, but new signs of life are beginning to show. Small grasses are poking out from the dry earth. All the trees are gone, all except for the sycamore tree. It stands even taller, towering over the children and providing shade.

It is 2010, and an older boy is working hard. He's using a trowel to tear into the hard earth. When the hole is deep enough, he carefully sets a small tree inside before packing the soil down around it. He steps back to admire his work, then looks to the right of the tiny tree. His eyes travel up the tree trunk and look toward the sky, where branches are pointed. He stares at the old sycamore tree and smiles before shifting his gaze to its baby brother again. With one last glance, he picks up his trowel and starts up the hill. He heads to the old brick house and opens the door. His grandfather smiles at him as he enters the kitchen.

"I planted the tree, Grandpa," he says.

"Thank you, Matthew," he replies, continuing to smile. "I would have done it myself, but I'm not sure if I could've managed it."

"Grandpa, can I ask you a question?" Matt asks.

"Fire away."

"Why do you want a tree planted there?"

"Take a seat, Matthew," his grandfather says, and Matt sits down in the kitchen chair opposite him and waits.

"At some point in your life, there may come a time when you'll think a lot about your past," the old man explains. "If you begin to do so when you're as old as me, you might have a hard time remembering it. My memory seems to be betraying me lately." He chuckles. "You might also become obsessed with the future. That's why I wanted you to plant that tree. When I was younger, I used to play by that old sycamore tree, and your mother and uncle did as well. Maybe someday, perhaps a hundred years from now, people will be able to enjoy that tree you just planted. We must always keep what's simple in life near to us."

Matt thinks for a moment. "Grandpa, I'm not sure I understand."

"Well, I'll explain it a bit more, then. You see, Matthew, people are obsessed with time. We always think about the past, present, and future. We even have an expiration date. People live to be known. They live for the simple things in life when they can, like friends, family, and even old sycamore trees. To stay happy, all we need to do is concentrate on those simple things. Do you understand now?"

"I think so," Matt says. "I might have to think on it a bit, though."

His grandfather smiles at him. "You're a smart boy, Matthew. I'm sure you'll be able to figure it out."

Later that night, Matt lays on his bed and thinks. It isn't a hard thing for him. He's always been a dreamer. He thinks of the past, present, and future. He knows that his grandfather is right. People are obsessed with time.

It is 2110, and the old sycamore tree is no longer there, but a Matt's stands in its place. While all the other children are playing with the newest gadgets, one girl, a dreamer, is sitting under the tree as she reads a book. When people look at her, they think that time is standing still, but one 115-year-old man knows better as he watches from his window. She just appreciates the simpler things in life.

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