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Chester County Press

Editorial: Into the old tree

06/21/2022 03:12PM ● By Richard Gaw

It is irrefutably against the practice of this newspaper to devote the entirety of this editorial space to anything but commentary on that which is led by, influenced and impacted by people. So allow us to be forgiven here for one reporter’s momentary slip from the subjective into the ethereal.

The London Grove Oak Penn Charter Tree – identified as a Quercus Alba White Oak – stands voluminous at the rear of the parking lot at the London Grove Friends Meeting House. It is 82 and a-half-feet tall, has a girth breast of 22 feet, two inches at its widest, and spans 117 feet. According to a plaque secured to its base, the tree was alive when William Penn arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682, and is estimated to be between 350 and 375 years old.

Approximately one week after George Floyd was brutally and deliberately murdered at the knee of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in 2020, and as the United States began a divided but necessary conversation about police violence and race, a prominent area therapist quietly invited anyone who wished to come to the Meeting House and sit in silence beneath the shade of Quercus Alba. Fifty people answered the invitation, and for the next hour, not one voice raised itself over a whisper. Given that no one there knew the proper words to describe their emotions of the past week, the tremendous limbs of the tree swaying in the breeze of that June night gave space for everyone’s fear and anger and sadness to rest.

Just as they arrived, they then left the same way, individual by individual and family by family, in quiet reverence.

Last Friday, as temperatures rose above 90 degrees in the late afternoon, the reporter returned to the old tree for the first time since he sat beside it on that June evening in 2020. He stood beside it and remembered the twist of its spine and the various journeys of its branches from the time before and was reassured that its strength could withstand the weight of the country again.

By his very nature and the bylines of his profession, the reporter is not anointed by the power of healing through the natural world, and any flights of spiritual fancy beyond reliable facts and figures seems to him entered into not in the search for an awakening but as developmental sport.

Yet like millions of others in this nation, the gravity of what he has read about and seen over the past two years has become unbearable, and he has found himself no longer able to carry these indecencies on his own.

He began the act of firing mental fastballs at Quercus Alba.

He threw the gross negligence of police violence at the old tree. He threw the lingering cesspool of a lie sold to the American people that nearly toppled a Democracy and threatens to again. He threw the cold-blooded killing of more than one million Americans by a pandemic that continues to empty dining room chairs and rip at the fabric of families. He threw the shocking and volatile murders of American lives from the barrels of AR-15 rifles that blatantly and without legal accountability find their way into the hands of teenagers. He threw the egregious excuses made by lawmakers in the wake of these shootings.

Without exception, the Quercus Alba took everything into the burrow of its permanence and held them, safe in the green leaves that waved like human hands in the occasional breeze.