The Ginkgo Tree Is Dead

The Christian life is frustrating. It is a paradox.

Connor Gwin / 9.12.22

The Ginkgo tree is dead. 

Summer has ended and the school buses have all rumbled back to life after their long summer’s nap and the heat is unbearable and the Ginkgo tree is dead. 

For decades, the tree has stood next to the church, the iconic backdrop for countless post-baptism, post-wedding, and post-funeral pictures. Red brick walls, white Roman columns, a tall steeple … and the Ginkgo tree. Sure Christ is risen, indeed, but if your family hasn’t taken their picture under the Ginkgo tree then Easter has not come. The Ginkgo tree is dead. 

Four arborists came to investigate. The first said it was simply blooming late this year so we waited. And waited. The second arborist offered no such adolescent hope. This Ginkgo tree is dead. The third and fourth confirmed these findings. 

The species of tree that survived the nuclear blast at Hiroshima was struck dead by some invisible and unknown cause in the dead of spring while every other living thing burst to life in a rage of color and pollen. 

The reactions have been fairly one-sided: sheer heartbreak. So many people love that Ginkgo tree. So many people have so many memories around that tree. It can’t be gone and just like that. The Ginkgo tree can’t possibly die right now — after all we’ve been through. After so many deaths of people and plans and dreams, now the tree? 

There was always a magical week or two in the fall when the Ginkgo tree’s leaves would burst into a bright yellow hue. It was a shock to the eyes to step out of the sanctuary with its simple white walls and wooden pews only to be blinded by the sunlight crashing off the yellow Ginkgo leaves. 

“He looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.”

Of course, we want the bush to always burn. Moses no doubt thought of building a fence around the holy shrub. 

There have been a few ideas floated around the parish to memorialize the tree. Once the reality of the Ginkgo tree’s demise settled in fully, the Pinterest ideas started flowing. Coasters or cutting boards could be made from the trunk. Or perhaps Christmas tree ornaments could be made from the branches. 

The other day I was walking through Publix while Joni Mitchell sang through the loudspeakers, “They took all the trees and put ‘em in a tree museum / And they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em.” 

We want the bush to always burn. 

The truth, of course, is that there will be another tree. We will plant a new Ginkgo or some other tree and in a few years, it will be as loved as the dead tree that looms in that spot right now. In a generation, it will be the backdrop of the pictures. In two generations it will be the only tree that has ever been there. And when that tree dies some priest will sit at her desk and type a piece like this as she tries to find meaning in the fact that “everything dies at last, and too soon.”

The Christian life is frustrating. It is a paradox. This has always been true because the Christian life is the human life, and human life is fraught. 

We have the creative spark resting somewhere in the gray matter of our brains and so we invent things and dream incredible dreams. We can imagine new worlds and work to make them real. We humans can take the blank page and write Sonnet #18 or draw a rocket that will take us to the moon. We can sit at an instrument someone thought up and use both hands to compose the B Minor Mass. We can become ever-so-slightly like God until one day the muscle that mysteriously started pumping in our mothers’ womb just as mysteriously stops pumping. 

The Ginkgo tree is dead. It will not burst into yellow this year as the weather shifts and the morning breeze brings the coolness of fall from the place where the seasons are stored. 

What is one to do? What Christians do when confronted with death: Grieve and cry as we wrestle with yet another reminder that the here and now aren’t forever. And through the tears, look closely at the dirt for the signs that another tree is coming. 

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever (Rev 22:1-5).

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3 responses to “The Ginkgo Tree Is Dead”

  1. Pierre says:

    Lovely. We think about the impact of living things dying when it’s people and animals, but perhaps not as much when it’s a tree. Still, the loss can hurt deeply.

  2. Matthew Metevelis says:

    Thank you for this reflection Connor. I shared with my congregation to help them cope with the loss of our lead pastor yesterday.

  3. Judy Wagner says:

    I am a native Charlottean. Born and raised. In Dilworth where I grew up, there were many. But none as beautiful as this one. That tree was my favorite of all. I visited it yesterday and said goodbye. No more yellow carpet appearing overnight. I hope another ginkgo replaces it.

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