23 years ago a rather robust oak tree stood nestled on the bank of the Hiwassee River in East Tennessee. A young boy and his father were camping near that tree and had just spent the day rafting the river and they decided to mark their adventure on something that could possibly prove to be more lasting than even their own memories. So with a few quick strokes of a knife their initials, that happened to be the same, were carved into the sturdy oak.
Fast forward 21 years to another father and son visiting that very place to camp and play in the river. The father recognized the tree causing the carving of years before to dance through his mind. With great anticipation and a sense of the continuation of a tradition the father began to search for the initials. After a few seconds he found them. The growth of the tree placed the initials much higher than they had been years before. Fortunately the initials were still there and visible so he was able to show his son what had been done before. His son, still being young took in all he could and seemed to appreciate knowing where his father and grandfather had been before. Knowing their previous path and knowing that he too was now on that path seemed to add to his sense of belonging and acceptance.
So fast forward 2 more years ahead, this year in fact. They visited the river again except this time the son had two younger brothers in tow. Once camp was set up and everything was ready for the night the obligatory, yet much anticipated, trek to the river bank began. What an exciting time to share with other sons in the new generation what happened in the years that existed prior to them. As they neared the familiar landing something seemed very much out of place. Something was missing. Could it be possible?
It seems that a storm or perhaps disease had taken down the tree...the initials gone. In its place a broad stump remained, sawed neatly just inches above the muddy bank. Realizing that things like this happen the dad wondered what his boys would think? How would the oldest son react to something lost that he once had taken such pride in? How would the other sons react to the "loss" of something they knew only in stories? As one could imagine, the two younger boys didn't seem to mind at all. They obviously didn't miss something in which they never felt ownership. The older son was certainly not in step with his brothers. After a moment of staring into the air where the mighty oak once stood his head dropped. He turned and began to walk away. Before he had gone too many steps he began to cry.
Seeing his son so upset, the boy's father realized what was going on with his son and he wrapped him up tightly in an understanding hug. He asked his son why the tears, though the father felt quite sure that he was crying because of his own loss. It was at that time though that his son's depth, love and sympathy stood out to him. The son looked at the father and said, "Dad, I'm so sorry for you that your tree is gone". Brought to tears himself by his son's great compassion and love, it hit him that his son wasn't crying because of his loss. The son was crying because of his father's loss. The father explained to him that trees occasionally die and that the real treasure in the tree wasn't the initials carved in the bark but rather the experience of a father and son spending time together enough to carve the initials.
Now the thing that mattered most on the river bank was that another generation of father and son stood there together...sharing an experience and vowing to share more. Perhaps there is even a new tree with new initials on that river bank now...the sign of a father and son carrying on a tradition and furthering a legacy of love.
I'm the most honored man on the planet to have carved my initials in that tree with my dad and over 2 decades later with my sons.