The menfolk living along our country road had gathered in my study as they were in the habit of doing, around the potbellied stove with the old coffee pot simmering on its hot top. A neighbor mentioned the giant landmark redwood that had measured its length along the hillside not far away. It had been the victim of a recent storm, and now its huge trunk, much larger than the outstretched arms of a man could span, lay prone and broken, its long life ended. "What a shame that such a beautiful tree should have fallen prey to the ravages of nature!"
"Oh, well," said another fellow with a slight shrug of his shoulders, "that's just the way the ball bounces." But our old friend from up the hill felt it was not quite that simple. "Maybe we should consider the words of Hamlet: 'There's a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will."'
After another sip of coffee, he went on: "Shakespeare could just as well have used the word destiny: the destiny that controls the living and growing things of the forest also lays a final hand on us who are here to enjoy the beauty that is all around us. The way I see it, it's not so much 'the way the ball bounces,' as it is that there is a scheme to which we are all subject that brings forth living things, allows them to flourish, produce and reproduce and then die so that younger and more virile segments of the plan may carry on. It's when we fail to recognize this that we cannot understand why what we love and enjoy is taken from us."
Our cups remained empty as we listened, aware of what the recent death of his beloved wife had meant to our friend. He continued slowly, "I believe there's a parallel between the loss we feel for this giant tree and my own personal loss. Each was for a reason, each left, as it should, memories that compensate. I had taken the happiness of my life for granted, much as we did the agelessness of this redwood. Then destiny stepped in. With the tree it was a sudden death, with my wife it was a long, painful end."
After a pause he added, "I have come to realize that we are often not as cheated by events as we sometimes think. Actually, it seems to me, we are asked to exchange one set of values for another. With each loss we are provided with some type of compensation, if we can recognize it. The capacity to remember can be a wonderful thing. On our way through life we make deposits of beautiful memories and inner knowledge gained, much as we deposit money in the bank. So too our minds are departmentalized with a goodly portion set aside for the storage of experience. As we can write a check against our account, so also we can draw upon the rich memories and true values that have been deposited, as recompense for losses sustained.
"The beauty of the giant redwood is one of those memories, as is the love and happiness I shared with my wife. They are not lost, but now live in a different form, as a wonderful treasury of experience to be utilized for the new life we must make for ourselves. If we can accept this exchange of realities, then it is not too difficult to accept whatever comes."
I do not think anyone could disagree with his explanation. I for one wanted only to affirm my feeling that there is a divinity — or a destiny — that shapes our ends, and that just as the seedlings from our redwood will in time compensate for its loss, so too shall each of us, in nature's own way, be fulfilled.
(From Sunrise magazine, April 1971; copyright © 1971 Theosophical University Press)