by Stephanie N.
(Marietta, Georgia, U.S.A.)

The damp sidewalks shine in the harsh afternoon light. A stiff breeze sends a pile of golden leaves swirling as they rustle and whisper secretly. And with it comes a scent of earth, life, and memory.

I am alone. Through the thick city smog, a few shafts of sunlight manage to graze the ancient figure before me. Centuries old, it rests, a passive spectator to generations of everything on earth. A silent witness to time itself, a representation of life. A banyan. A tree.

In the sky, the complex tangle of branches and roots twist, an interlaced mesh of history. Years and years ago, they all started out the same; one tiny sprout, a single trunk. The father of a thousand. Each small decision, every movement, will alter the course of their life forever. Some follow the same path, but they all split eventually. Each is unique. Sometimes the limb will end in a leaf, shining and alive, gleaming in what light there is. Sometimes it will not.

Thick limbs extend from the father trunk, strong children of the first generation. From these, thinner branches fan out, entwining their thriving foliage with the rest of the banyan. They whisper in hushed tones, each with a story to share and a secret to keep. The thing about the tree that strikes me as ultimately fantastic is its roots. Suspended high above the dry, crumbling soil like gnarled pillars, they stretch from earth to sky. Once merely drooping extensions of the limbs, they've somehow found enough nourishment in the thin, insubstantial air to thicken and twist to the ground. Here, they take root and flourish.

At first glance, the tree seems like a twisted, ugly thing, a huge tree fastened to the ground by its own gnarled branches. When you open your eyes and let the beauty of the banyan's imperfection sink in, you'll discover that the branches are not holding the tree down, but raising it up. Each branch is a root, a pipeline to the tree's nourishment and its life. Knobby though it may be, the tree is a beautiful thing. It is more alive than any of us could ever be.

My eyes fasten upon a particular section of the tree, a place where a miracle has occurred. Weaker than the others, a branch has snapped, crushed under the weight of its hardy existence. But the branch has not fallen. Caught by its family, the falling branch slowed its descent to rest, high above the ground, in the continuing web of life. Here, it continues to live.
Value every moment and every breath, even if it does not come from you. But always, always remember that the life that is most valuable, most precious, and most opportune is your own.

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