When no one’s looking, I sometimes pick my teeth, especially if I’ve just eaten popcorn.
The hulls get stuck in the same back tooth every time.
And salad. Shreds of spring mix find that same tooth to nest beside.
I carry toothpicks with me. In my car, my purse, my gym bag, but when one’s still not accessible, I use my finger. It’s not the most attractive silhouette I imagine, but it works. Same for the old yellow tennis shoes I carry in the back of my car just “in case.” In case of what? I’m not sure, but I’m ready should I feel the urge to strap them on and take off cross country on a whim.
Out of the five years they’ve been in my trunk, I finally, just last month, had an opportunity that called for a more stable shoe than the flip flops I had on. I tied those old shoes on with a smile on my face. I didn’t care that they weren’t stylish and were the color of spoiled mustard.
The other day, while walking through the woods, I saw the most magnificent tree and was compelled to touch it. I glanced down the path and it was clear of other hikers, so I shuffled over and hugged that dear tree so tightly I had imprints of the bark on my forearms.
A young man jogged by and I stepped away from the tree, nonchalantly scratching my head as if I could fool the guy who’d just seen me embracing a tree. I was embarrassed for a moment, the term “kooky tree-hugger” swaying in my head, looking for a hook to hang onto, but I shooed it past and finished the prayer for God to continue to light my figurative path and to use me to help others along the way.
As I headed up the trail, the young man jogging past me slowed and said, “You mind if I ask you something?” I nodded. “What were you doing by that tree? You looked so peaceful.”
“Praying,” I said. “And it might sound silly, but I liked feeling the tree.”
He swiped the sweat from his face and shared how he’d gotten hooked on pain killers after a wreck and was no longer able to run competitively. He said he’d been clean for six months, but woke the night before contemplating suicide. He says, “Seeing you touching that tree was the brightest spot in my day.”
That boy helped me as much or more than I did him. I encouraged him to find peace — to lose his story. I told him he doesn’t have to define himself as the accumulation of all his mistakes. I told him he has nothing to prove, just live like no one is looking. That seems to be working for me.
I’ll end this one with a prayer: Holy God, make me strong like the tree, rooted to my truth and able to withstand the storms and squelching rays of the sun. Make me bountiful like the tree so I can provide encouragement to the weary traveler in need of shade. Help me to aspire toward the Heavens effortlessly like the trees branches until I feel your breath coaxing my outstretched fingertips to touch not only your radiant cheeks but to touch all your creations, the trees, the rocks, until Your light burns through all pretense, leaving only love.
Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County, author of “Rain No Evil” and host of Life Speaks on AIR radio.