A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Greening of the Mangrove Part 2

by Fr Phil Cody sm

by Fr Phil Cody sm

One other lesson impressed itself on me as I ‘waited’ alongside the mangrove. The message to ‘SIT DOWN’. As the late Bishop Finau SM stated in a sermon to us in the seminary, ‘Be prepared to waste time with us’. He was lamenting those people coming to Tonga who were like tourists who took photos and left.   No, if only we would ‘waste time’ a little more these (and any) days. Be prepared to ‘sit down’ and listen and be with someone. Not so easy as we know. The mangrove was trying once more to impress that on me. Even the tide lapped gently at her as it came in ever so slowly...

It is by sitting down we notice things. I became aware of a delicate new growth from the base of the mangrove. It had obviously had a hard time and part of the new stalk had been broken (eaten?) off and new shoots were trying again. Perhaps it (and other sections of the tree) could be helped by pruning off the dead parts so that no disease could affect the healthy sections.

Taking a closer look I saw some tiny new fruit, some new seedpods hidden in the leaves. New life is present!Mangrove1

I spontaneously burst out with ‘I’m so proud of you’! Much to my surprise the mangrove echoed back ‘And I’m so proud of you too!’ We had ‘held’ each other over the last years, had ridden out some storms, had got caught up in some tangles, had been a bit scarred and yet were now basically healthy and thriving! The mangrove was taller now, in fact over my head! No huge growth or lots more shoots but basically the same core tree.

Another day it was as though the mangrove wanted to teach me to ‘go with the flow’. It was quite windy and I was getting a bit impatient wanting the mangrove to be still so I could get a ‘non-blurred’ photo! However it said ‘No -let the breeze be -I need to bend -or else!’ I am still pondering that lesson.

So the tide was already starting to cover its roots and lower trunk, for the umpteenth time! Let it happen. Go with the flow and live for another day. It was not meaning ‘be indifferent’ but ‘bend’ as needed. Indeed the mangrove was still utterly firmly grounded in its base and rocks at its core!

I realized ‘it is not too comfortable’ sitting there on the rocks! How true! Life is not always comfortable at all. It is a bit rocky and I can’t sit at perfect ease all the time. I do have to get up and ‘stretch’ and move around. I wonder what that means?

One meaning is that there is hope in life, which can surface and develop in tough circumstances. If ever the saying ‘caught between a rock and a hard place’ was true, this was it. Yet the mangrove had quietly but firmly found a way around / between / under the rocks to survive and grow.

So ‘sit down’ there close by - listening, watching, letting the sun and the sea and the mangrove teach me.

I mentioned the new shoot of delicate growth at the mangrove’s base. As a born ‘Helper’, I wanted to protect the new growth. I found an old light-adapter which fitted nicely around the new shoots. However when I came back the next day the leaf had turned yellow! Woops!

I can be too helpful sometimes. This was a reminder to be sensitive (at least with my personality) that sometimes I can easily slip into trying to ‘micro-manage’ my own or someone else’s life! There is a time to stand back and not to try and ‘fix it’, and ‘get it all done (now)!’ Sometimes I, and others, need to be left alone. I guess you will know similar risks with your own personality.

A more personal question might be ‘What new delicate growth do I need to protect? How will I do it?’ It was a gentle reminder to ensure persons such as a supervisor and spiritual director were in place. Also to ensure getting some space for self which might be some exercise (or rest) or doing something creative or visiting someone or some family or saying no to some extra request.

Be prepared to waste time with us

Be prepared to waste time with us

As I was sitting really close - you might even say intimately - next to the mangrove - and leaning on her trunk I suddenly felt some rotting bark near a scar I had not previously noticed. There was quite a large area where the bark was all soaked and falling apart around a patch that had been knocked or cut by rocks or some other damage. It was affecting the bark around it so I carefully peeled it off back to the good firm bark, which was alive. ‘Man’, I said to the mangrove, ‘that’s dangerous! If that scarring gets fully around your trunk, you’re dead! You need to look after yourself better!’ Mmm! It is only when we get close to ourselves or someone that we notice deeper hurts and are able to ‘peel back’ the damage and allow healing! This care for oneself is no casual matter! It is in fact a matter of life (or death) for ourselves and others!

One day there was a change of weather – cloud and wild winds and breaking waves! Eek! Yet another lesson.   Days are not always nice and calm and sunny - skies get cloudy and the weather packs it in. Mangrove did not seem too concerned and swayed fully with the wind and the surging of the sea! All a rather wild dance but if she can withstand cyclones then I can too (“with a little help from my friends” - especially The Friend!)

On the last morning of retreat, after cleaning up, I went down and sat by the mangrove. The tide was on the way out but still close around the mangrove so I sat there with my feet in the water. It was like a foot washing ceremony, a lovely goodbye, a gentle bathing and putting aside anything I did not need to take away with me.

So ‘noho rā’, dear mangrove, ‘Stay firmly there and ‘keep growing’. Many thanks for such a beautiful retreat’.  

Philip Cody SM

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