Today, sitting on the deck, feet up, drink in hand, relaxing after a busy day, my mind began to wonder remembering some of life’s lessons that I have learned over the years.  Lessons that today are my tools for getting comfortable in my new life as a single woman.  I especially recall an event that took place on Long Lake in Ingleside, Illinois, my last home before moving to Pennsylvania.

I loved living on the lake.  It was 9 miles around the lake and it provided activities to us all year round.  Ice sail boat races along with the ice fisherman, skaters, and toboggan rides accounted for our winter activities.  The loud cracking screech of sound as the ice split across the lake would announce the call of spring and soon summer.  Ah, summer.  I loved the summer.  Still, quiet nights when the lake would become a glass plate where sound would travel across from one side to the other as if each voice were sitting next to each other. Long distant eves dropping a summer pastime.

Lake Shore Drive hugged the shore line of the lake as it zig and zagged from one end of the lake to the other. Just down the road from our home was a small peninsula that was overgrown with grasses, shrub trees and one large old oak tree located at the end of the curve in the road.

In Illinois, roads were straight and when someone said to go around the block they meant four equal sides–a real block.  Curves in the roads were not easily found except for roads less traveled.  This particular point in the road would (at least one to three times during the summer months) catch the late night drivers, who were more often than not, daydreaming while driving along the lake enjoying  the late summer moonlit nights, most likely high with too much alcohol from the bar located down the street.  The driver would hit the curve at the peninsula bend, and just when his instincts would tell him the road would straighten out, the road would take one final bend, catching the driver off guard and empaling the car and it’s passengers into the large oak tree.

It took three people holding hands to complete a hug around that oak tree.  Summer after summer I would watch the tragic events unfold at least once.  Some lives were lost, some bodies were broken and damaged, only a few would walk away.  No matter the night, when that sound of breaking glass, screeching tires, and crushing metal was heard, we always picked up the phone to call the police before running out to the scene.  Once there, we would help the victims the best we could, but most often they were beyond what we could do.

We always commented how, but for that oak tree, these people would have been in the lake.  That large oak tree was the only thing standing between them and the water.  Accident after accident, hit after hit, the tree would scar but still stand strong and tall.

One summer night, like others that witnessed the tragedy by the oak, a soft sound of crushing metal was heard.  I looked and saw a young man exiting his car, looking at his right front fender that was being hugged by the big old oak tree.

“Can you call the police,” he called out?

“Already have,” I answered.  He walked up and we started talking about how that curve just didn’t want to end and he was surprised how it caught him off guard.

“It does from time to time,” I said to him when suddenly we both looked over when we heard a strange sound of creaking wood and witnessed the big old oak slowly and gracefully fall, crushing the car beneath it.  We both stood there in shock.  It was just a slight fender bender, nothing major, no life lost, not even much damage–until now.   The car was totaled.

How often I have thought about the big old oak tree that was felled by a minor accident.  How many times in my own life has a minor event caused me to over react or crack under pressure when the reality was I was so overwhelmed by the totality of all the stress, that I had reached a point that I could take no more.

What I have learned over the years with the lesson of the big old oak tree in my head, was that no one is so big or so strong that they cannot break under an overload of stress or pain.  It is important to love myself enough to care for me during the hard times–to take time to breath, process the events that cause me pain and stress, and especially to allow time for me to heal. I recognize that I must at times make me a priority.  I know that I can’t be anything for anybody else unless I take care of myself.