I was shocked to attention by their scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs red. Not that they uttered a sound, or so much as nodded to get me to look. But dozens of blossoms stared me in the eye, their bright yellow orbs dared me to smile—or at least to acknowledge their existence. Either the camellia tree had bloomed furtively overnight, or I had been too distracted to notice.
In my rapid, first response, I gasped, “How could this tree possibly have missed the memo and worn such vibrant red during these months of gloomy gray?” I had assumed a tree planted so close to where I come and go would have taken subtle cues from my appearance. It could have observed that muted tones or subtle grays were the only acceptable substitutes for tear-stained black. It should have noted its more sensitive siblings, the ones who hug the lot line, dressed in tasteful white. If it couldn’t dress itself more sensitively, then perhaps it shouldn’t dress itself at all.
In my lingering second glance, I couldn’t help but notice the sheer magnitude of blooms that burst from this aging tree. Such a showy display had not appeared for many, many years. I am sure there is a studied horticultural reason for this extraordinary display, but at this moment, as the calendar turns its back on January and reaches for love-laced February, this seems like an extravagant bouquet meant just for me.
The flowers, luscious in their crimson frocks—the color of a dozen roses or a heart-shaped box of chocolates—conveyed a message of exuberant love but not in a way that was cliché. While the flowers attracted my attention, it was the tree that spoke of love. I recognized its steadfast faithfulness. This tree planted almost eighty years ago was still giving of itself.
It persevered through countless hardships and adapted to each change. It remained standing when its friends succumbed to Andrew, Katrina and Gustav, storms that decimated our home and yard. It had survive our renovations, the countless splatters of Tudor trim paint. It had wrapped its arms around our little boys who often climbed it when they were small. When ice crystals entombed it buds and leaves, it drew from an inner warmth that sustained it through the freeze.
In this is love, the willingness to sacrifice and expect nothing in return, the constant giving of oneself while standing through the storms. Jesus lived and died like this. So did George.