I used to have a big tree in my backyard, a giant river maple that was about fifty feet high. He shaded half of the yard for a season every year and dropped leaves into it for another and then just stood there for another, arms raised. I never really thought about him much. Not a particularly beautiful tree - I think river maples never really are - but a tree nonetheless, and one that broke up the grassy monotony of the backyard.
One late summer during a particularly vicious Tennessee summer storm, all howling straight-line winds and singing electric wires, I sat on the back steps and watched the wind do a number on the river maple. Nothing it couldn't really handle, but it certainly wasn't very interested in hanging onto its leaves for a while. Then, quite quickly, the wind changed direction and came from the east, a very unusual occurrence. So unusual, in fact, that you could smell it - it was a different wind, from somewhere other than Arkansas or points more westerly. And within a minute of the wind changing direction, there was a deafening twist and crack and whopping whumph! as the tree was uprooted from its very base and knocked over with such a force that mortar fell from between nearby bricks and the strings of the wind-up clock in my living room shuddered and vibrated a minor chord for a full minute. Fascia board was ripped from the house; phone poles were brought down on the back property line, a fence leveled. All that drama and damage simply because the wind changed direction.
I am thinking of this tonight because at a meeting this evening, a friend from in-patient therapy told me that another friend from in-patient therapy, T, had relapsed and returned to the rehab facility, this time for the longer, 30-day stay. To say I was surprised would be a massive understatement - I was so distracted by this information that I didn't hear a word the speaker who spoke for thirty minutes said, nor did I listen to a single other person who raised his hand the other half of the hour. All I could think about was T and what his relapse meant. T was the alpha male of our group while I was in rehab. It was an elastic group in number - anywhere from ten to sixteen at any given time, depending on intake and discharge dates - but there was always a core of eight or so who all got there at roughly the same time, and T was large and in charge the time he was there. He took it very seriously; he had a lot to lose if he couldn't make it work.
One of the things a counselor told us - and we were never sure if it was a scare tactic or the truth - was that only one in six of us would succeed. One in six. It seemed easy to look around the room or listen to what people said during group discussion and know which five wouldn't make it. People are either ready or they're not; the timing has to be right...sometimes the first time through, sometimes the third time through's the charm for people....sometimes they have to leave in the middle of the night and get picked up by the police after committing eight felonies within six hours of leaving. But I was convinced T had it, so to hear this evening that he didn't quite, not just yet, was a little bit of east wind stirring up and heading my direction. A momentary swaying, a creaky branch here or there, leaves swirling all whichaways.
But no up-rooting. I took deep breaths and thought about the positives - T knew to check himself back in the next day after his relapse, this time for a longer and more rigorous program. He has a supportive family and a job worth keeping. I am still certain he is the one in his six. I am the one in mine, and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise.
But I would like the jet stream to behave itself for just a while longer.