“Wow, when did that happen?”
We were driving to my mother’s home in Nashville for our Christmas celebration, and my daughter reacted to a new construction project we hadn’t seen before. Obviously it had been quite a while since we drove south. Going home after a hiatus is like that. There is the surprise of the new, and the comfort of the old. In central Indiana, it’s often the disappearance of corn fields being replaced by subdivisions. Or strip malls.
The roads in Brown and Morgan County are roads I’ve traveled all my life, before I was old enough to drive and after. Memories pervade the trip. I wonder at a pond that’s been the unlikely recipient of several unlucky drivers and their cars over the years. The railroad tracks outside of Bean Blossom used to jar awake my children, both coming and going. Now we sail over them gently, my grown children still asleep. I notice “for sale” signs posted in yards.
As I rounded a curve near Fruitdale, I was shocked at the sight before me: for the first time in fifty years, I could see three houses where a line of pine trees used to stand! Those houses used to be hidden by a row of well-manicured, highly-uniform pine trees. Those trees had done a fabulous job of providing privacy to everything behind them. When we drove past the trees, I would strain to look between them, getting glimpses of water—a lake or a pond—between the trees and the houses.
Occasionally in the winter, you could see Christmas lights decorating objects, but still, the trees stood guardian. I was a curious child, and I remember asking an adult once long ago why we couldn’t see the houses. The answer that drove my memories was that the people didn’t want us to see their houses. I didn’t understand that as a child, and on most trips past the compound, I wondered what those people had to hide.
The sentries are now cut down, cut down and replaced with saplings, neatly in a row, exactly where the others had grown. My shock was so great I wanted to stop the car and just look. I remember braking and taking the longest look I could afford before I became a traffic hazard. I could see everything that had been hidden for so long. I wanted to memorize the colors, the size, the design of those hidden gems.
It turns out that it wasn’t all that special. They were nice, unique, older homes, sitting on a manicured lake. There were three, with plenty of space between them. They shared a drive around the lake. One was green, one was brown, and I don’t remember the color of the third. One was two-story with a screened-in porch. That was it. No bells or whistles that I could see. No spectacle to hide from the world all these years. It was a little bit of a let-down, I’ll have to admit. Bigfoot was not lurking and I hadn’t found Atlantis.
And yet as I drove on toward Christmas finger food and family, the shock of seeing a landscape hidden for fifty years lingered. I began to think about the homeowners’ reactions to exposure, rather than my own. How did they feel, I wondered? What a change for the owners and occupants, who had been hidden away from the sight of traffic and prying eyes for fifty years, to suddenly be exposed after so long. How would they feel with their privacy so drastically taken away?
Their view of the world was different now, as well. When they looked out their front windows, the visible world didn’t end at the fine row of pine trees. Now their view included the highway, with prying eyes looking into their world for the first time in fifty years. Did they feel less secure? Personally, I like to see what’s coming at me, and I’m not sure I want a walled-off world. Did the absence of trees also allow noise into their world when it was once still?
The folks living in those homes obviously want their privacy back—they planted new trees where the old ones once grew. Over the years their world will become secluded again, the trees slowly obscuring the highway and the rest of the world. They will no longer have neighbors they can see, or who can see them. Until that time, when the trees reach maturity, they will have to live in a world they would rather not see.
The joke goes that Denial is a big river in Africa, and several people like to spend time on it. Facing reality is often the harsh hand that tips us off our rubber rafts as we float along that river. How much of the outside world can we afford to stop seeing? How many of our neighbors can we stop seeing by choice? How long can we live outside the real world before Christ calls us back to cut down the trees of our comfortable, closed-off lives?