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The Formation Tree

I told the following story at the second of eight formation retreats sponsored by the DCCCD Staff and Organizational Development Office. These retreats, modeled on the work of Parker Palmer, offer employees an opportunity to engage in formation which Palmer defines as "journeying, individually and in community, to our inner selves, our hearts and souls, to identify our true selves and our deep integrity." We meet from Friday morning to Sunday afternoon every season for two years. The retreats are held near the airport at the American Airlines Training and Conference Center (AATCC).

A tree! Be quiet and what?… look it in the eye until it looks back at me….duh!!!

What have I gotten myself into? The last poem our group studied had a statement about "the right tree appeared before my eyes…"

I picked up paper and pencil and headed outside. It is Sept. 15, 2002, and I feel weird. America has been attacked…. Is Justin, my 17 year old son, safe?… I do not understand the last poem we read…

As I start adjusting to being outside and feeling better, I found a section of trees that reminded me of my home in East Texas. I sat down in front of one tree. I did attempt to be quiet, to find quietness, to close my eyes and draw the tree. It just wasn't clicking, but I continued to sit and attempt the assignment. "Maybe formation isn't for me", I worried.

I returned to the group and listened as my peers shared their tree stores. I still am not connecting, but I am thinking about it. I will not close my mind.

Time goes by and autumn arrives. I love fall… the colors are so vibrant. Fall colors make me feel warm and put a smile on my face.

On October 5, my daughter, Amy, who is 26 years old and married, calls to say "Mom we're moving to Michigan as soon as we can find a house. Kyle has been transferred!!!!!". My daughter and two-year-old grandson are moving to the tundra. I can't believe it… I can't handle it! They were to stay in Texas. FOREVER.

My coping skills were not good, and on Saturday, October 13, I felt I needed to go for a drive. I just started driving away from Mesquite, listening to music, and feeling so sad.
Before I realized how far I had gone, I was twenty miles away in Arlington on I-20, and I saw Loop 360. I veered to the right and headed north. American Airlines Training and Conference Center appeared on my left and I felt as though I was at a familiar place, a safe place. I parked and found myself walking toward my tree. My tree… A solace. I sat by my tree… I tried to be quiet. I cried and cried about Amy moving, life, and everything. A staff member named Sam from the front desk came out to check on me. She was so kind and considerate. She seemed to understand that I just needed to sit beside my tree and cry. I felt better when I returned to Mesquite.

It's October 23, and my house is full of laughter and family. Amy and Ryan are visiting-on their way to Michigan. Amy and I are having a great time, but a hard time because we each know that time is passing very fast. The next afternoon, Amy, Jason (my 26-year-old son), Ryan and I decided to go for a drive. Amy said, "Momma, let's go see some TEXAS!!" As Amy started the SUV, she made a comment about how much my live oak tree had grown since I had planted it two springs ago. When she said "tree," I knew where we were going…AATCC.

Amy, Ryan, Jason and I went to meet my tree. The older children could not believe this place existed in the Dallas Metro area. We parked, walked around for about 15 minutes, listened to the planes fly above us. Ryan was having a great time running and kicking his ball, watching the planes. I led my children to "my tree." Amy and I sat down by my tree. Jason continued to walk around and help Ryan. She laughed so hard about my "first tree encounter" that we had tears in our eyes. We each shared stories, love, and memories. Jason joined us and talked, and talked and talked. Amy and I were amazed at how he was opening up. It was a wonderful time among the four of us. I took my children into the lodge so Amy could see a few of the art pieces and the warmth that the facility exudes. Again, the staff was so kind to us- supportive but not intrusive.

In November, Amy calls to say so much. She is so homesick; the weather is so cold. She is setting up a new house, raising a two-year-old, knows no one. I tried to find words of warmth, praise and encouragement. Innocently, I said "Amy, find yourself a tree. Make a tree a friend like I have".

On December 22, I was on the tundra. During my Christmas visit to her new home, Amy took me to meet her tree. A beautiful blue-green spruce in Bay City, Michigan, in her neighborhood. A perfect tree. She confessed that the tree had really helped her feel not so alone and had encouraged her to explore her new neighborhood.

On Christmas morning, we are all having such a wonderful time watching Ryan discover Santa. Amy handed me a small, beautifully-wrapped package after a lot of the merriment had settled down. I pulled back the tissue paper and there lay a silver tree charm for my bracelet. A pretty tree with the branches shaped like hearts. I silently cried as I handed Amy a small bag with the James Avery logo. She pulled out the small box from the bag and opened it up. The Pax Christmas Tree charm for her bracelet. I know we shared the same thought as we looked each other in the eye, "how loving a TREE can be!"

Sandie Turner
Eastfield College
Dallas County Community College District
Winter 2002