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The man who cut down the oldest tree in the world

Sometimes when I am working with men, either in spiritual direction work, or in therapy, they will share with me the story of a mistake they have made, and how they are broken by that mistake. On many occasions I have shared with them the story of Donald Currey, the geologist who cut down the oldest tree in the world. Currey didn’t set out to cut down the bristlecone pine who would later be known as Prometheus, but he cut it down all the same.

An Honest Mistake

I share this story for three reasons – first, he didn’t do this intentionally, it was an honest mistake made by a young and earnest researcher.

Second, I share it because of Currey’s reaction of shame. When the press caught wind of this, he was hounded by reporters and people wanting to hear his story, but Currey essentially went into hiding. He didn’t die a hermit, he actually went on to become a well-respected researcher and professor of Geology, but he did refuse, up to the end of his life to ever speak about the incident publicly.

I understand his reluctance, and I also wish that I could have heard his story. That is a TED Talk that I would not want to miss – a story of both fault and redemption.

Why We Run Away

The third reason I share it is because it tracks perfectly with how we, as men, often approach our own mistakes. We will often run from them, not because we want to get away with it, but because we never received the tools (emotions) to handle the discomfort and grief.

Grief is, in fact, the key ingredient to understanding why we, as men, so often fail to show up as whole people. I just heard sin defined as when we fail to show up as fully human.

A Sturdiness That Can Only Come Through Grief

Grief is an emotion and a process that was taken from most of us when we were boys. The absence of an ability to grieve has also robbed us of so much joy. I have realized in my own life a sturdiness that can only come through grief. I started these Men’s Gatherings to address topics like grief head on, in a supportive community. I wrote this poem, Healing the Prometheus Tree with a desire to put into words the opportunity we have as men to heal ourselves and the wounded Patriarchy, of which we are both benefactors and victims.



Healing the Prometheus Tree

Did you hear about the man
who cut down
the oldest tree in the world?

He didn’t know it was that old
until he had counted
its fallen rings

And then it was too late
he had come for a core sample
and left with a legacy

I wished to know his story
What was it like to stand on the stump
of the felled Prometheus?

But he would never tell
and died with his story
suspended in shame
as if it were pure amber

Yet now I wonder if it is
too late after all?

Must we let the vultures of regret
pick our bones clean daily?

What failure is ours to own
and what of it is ours to harvest
like sap from a newly tapped maple?

And what if you have failed
to find the elixir you seek
because it was never for you
but always from you?

Can this crude bucket
hold both our contrite hearts
and the nectar that will
sustain our families?

With that, my fellow wounded healers,
I have to ask: Will you stand beside me
as we encircle the stump of our past
as we rise and converge
and heal, in our own way,
the Prometheus tree?

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