When You Can’t see the Trees

There’s a danger in going back to visit a place you’ve grown up in–a chance for your psyche to experience a bit of a jolt when what you remember doesn’t line up with reality.

Actually, much of life is like that.

My husband and I recently returned from an 8-day trip to California, the majority of the time in Southern California where I was born and raised, attended school and was married.

We drove around the old haunts–the house my husband grew up in, the home I lived in when we had our first date (and he kissed me in his front seat while my sister stared out the window).

Then we drove over to my high school alma mater.

The school site looked like a war zone–a chain link fence encircled the entire property, mountains of dirt excavated and piled high, chunks of concrete stacked in jagged hills.
Oh. Well.  Things were clearly not as they used to be.

I hadn’t expected to see the construction (destruction?) going on but it certainly made sense–I graduated forty-five years ago–clearly the building was ready for repairs and renovation.

My husband’s approach to a fence has always been, “How can we get IN there?”
He suggested we try to drive around to the back of the school, “to take pictures,” he said.
I’d never been all the way around to the back of the school that I recall and had no idea how to get there.
He confidently drove our car across the parking lot, skirted the fences along the side and went right through the construction gate.

There we were.


The angle was odd–we stood at the back of the school’s demolished gathering area, the Quad, looking at the Snack Bar next to the cafeteria.  The dividers where we leaned over each other to purchase chips and milk, gave each other cuts in line and ogled the cool kids.

That was a long time ago.

The Quad itself–a grassy expanse with an ‘X’ of walkways intersecting it–was a torn-up mess.
I remember many an angst-ridden lunchtime sitting on the concrete benches there, agonizing over whether or not any of the popular kids would ever come sit down by me or I’d be left alone.

The memories were like reading a familiar chapter in a book I knew by heart.  The story was my own but the distance of time depleted the sting.  I was grateful for the years that had passed and the blessing of being a little older and wiser. A lot older.

What I did not remember were the jacaranda trees.  Two of them standing there tall against the sky, shading the buildings.  Jacarandas are enormous green structures laden with lace-like leaves and punctuated by lovely lavender flowers.  They are few and far between, usually planted in plazas, parks and old neighbors.


I am always stilled by their beauty now, noticing them as if for the first time.

Why did I not remember these remarkable trees from my teenage years?

No doubt I’d been too busy focusing on my little high school world–the boys, the clothes, the drama–ever to look up skyward and see them.  I had missed them even though they’d been there all along.

How many things do we miss because we’re not looking?

How many things do we miss because we’re not listening?

To paraphrase Scripture, I think I understand why Jesus said, 
“He who has ears to hear and eyes to see, let him understand.”

You can’t see if you’re not looking. You can’t hear if you’re not listening.


The world is a broken down mess and people are searching for answers–looking in all the wrong places when God is right in front of them. They just need to know where to look.

And Who to listen to.

I want to remember that, too. How about you?

6 thoughts on “When You Can’t see the Trees

  1. Things always seem so much SMALLER, too, when I go back to places from my childhood. I'd like to think it's not because I am so much bigger, but I fear that is true. It's interesting what we see with the advantage of hindsight and perspective. I think when we are in the middle of life's stuff, stepping back can be so useful for really seeing and hearing. Thanks for this great post!

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  2. Interesting enough we did the same thing last week taking my sister in law who was visiting to her old house. Some of the same reaction. and what didn't we see before that time and distance helps us see? Great words of wisdom, Jody. Thanks so much

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  3. Hmmm…I loved reading this. Yes, we overlook so much because we don't know where to look. What a beautiful way to illustrate this point. Look up. Thank you for writing this.

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