Darkness has risen in the world.
Maybe it was always present. Most likely, you have some sense of what I’m talking about. That’s good, because I’m not going to explain it. It is likely we would diverge on the specifics, and peering into the abyss is not the purpose of this piece.
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
– Friedrich Nietzsche
I’m Writing About Hope.
This is the vision that greeted me as I entered the dojo one morning, not long ago. The tree is two years old, and this spring it bloomed in earnest for the first time.
This is not a situation where I saw some new spring flowers, and just knew that everything was gonna be all right.
These flowers grew out of a tragedy.
These flowers almost never existed.
These flowers are the result of hard work and persistence at building something of value.
The work was begun by my teacher and carried forward by his students, including myself. The tragedy that nearly took down the school we had built was our founding Sensei Barry Tuchfeld’s untimely passing, an event for which we had not prepared. I wrote about this in detail last year, if you’re curious:
Per the wishes of Barry Sensei and his family, his ashes were distributed in the places that he loved best. A part of his mortal remains were planted beneath that tree, two years ago.
Though every living thing has a limited plane of existence, it became very important to me that the little tree survive.
It nearly didn’t.
Two months after planting, when the tiny tree had seemed to be getting established, we had a significant drought. The leaves of the tree withered. I brought in mulch and watered deeply to save the little tree. The leaves fell. Yet I could scratch the bark and find green underneath, so I held onto hope.
A day came when a scratch on the outer bark revealed only brown.
By all appearances, the tree was dead. I kept watering.
As the upper two-thirds of the injured tree began to shrivel, it became clear that the bottom one-third still had life. The bark was taut, the buds of new growth swelled, and all at once the tree was growing again. We had entered the rainy season. In no time, the tree that grown so tall and lush that I worried how it would fare in the high winds of hurricane season.
Last year, the brave little tree put out a single cluster of blooms. It handled the seasonal droughts and high winds without much special attention, just additional mulch and a pruning in August. As the tree recovered from its injury, so did the dojo. Though it seems the tree has been quicker to establish itself, when I look at our dojo I see students advancing, teens and young adults getting excited about Aikido, and students of all levels improving their skills. I am part of a vibrant and living community of people who come here to better themselves.
So Today, I Say Hope Has Bloomed.
Aikido extends far beyond the mat. I value our dojo because it is made up of people taking meaningful action to improve the situation for ourselves, our families, and our community. Sensei’s tree shows me why this matters. The flowers that gave me a breath of hope today were planted and nurtured into existence over a period of two years.