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A hope note

I e-mailed a friend what I thought was a beautiful photograph of autumn foliage. He mailed me back a question: ‘Why do you suppose one tree is straight and the other crooked?’ I was expecting a compliment, not philosophizing.
The scene has about 20 trees; all but two of their trunks skinny and perfectly straight and tall. But two trees have big trunks, maybe four feet in diameter. One is straight as a silo; the other, same girth, only a few feet away, curves like a sickle.
You do wonder what happened. Was the genetic material of the crooked tree different? The science of genetics is still in its infancy, dating back to Mendel’s experiments with pea plants 140 years ago. Every year, we learn more about how our genetic makeup influences sexuality, criminality and mental health. Who’s to say that crooked tree didn’t have a slightly different constitution? Maybe even a crooked gene? Are you sure?
All 20 trees, on the same acre, had almost the exactly same climate and weather. But maybe the straight tree was one year older, and its shade made the crooked tree bend itself as a twig in search of more light. Maybe its roots, because of conditions beneath the surface, had a harder time getting to water. Maybe its soil’s Ph was slightly different, just enough to make it grow differently. Maybe when it was 10 inches tall a big dog slept on it overnight (or for several nights), bending it forever more.
We don’t know every detail of others’ histories, or what their constitutions predispose them to do.
We judge a tree by its appearance, unable to see the root system beneath the surface, ignorant of many details of its story.
‘To understand all is to forgive all.’

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