by Dwayne Milley

In September this year, someone gave Karen (my wife) two trees as a birthday gift. A tree is a gift that feel like it needs context – so here goes.

First, we live on a property in the city that had mature trees. In our backyard, there was a decades old spruce tree that fell in a windstorm about six years ago (thankfully, it landed between our house and the neighbours’). Then, three years ago, we had to take down our 60-year-old silver maple in our front yard before it fell on our little house. We still have some larger trees, but overall, our front and back yard felt naked.

two small trees were recently planted in a large grassy yard.

Next, buying a tree is one thing; planting it is entirely another thing. Knowing how much we missed our trees and wanting to give a gift with meaning, some friends pooled together to give Karen money for a tree. I went to a local shop and found that they were on sale because it’s the end of the season. So, I bought two Maidenhair trees.

It wasn’t until they were delivered that I realized that now I had twice the work.

Many people love yard work, to be at one with nature, doing things that give life (like planting trees). I’m not one of those people! Yard work does not bring me joy. Honestly, I was so in-the-moment in acquiring the two trees that I didn’t think that I’d also need to plant them.

I know myself enough to know that it was shaping up to be an unpleasant Saturday afternoon focused on tree planting.

I also know myself enough to know that, as an extrovert who gets joy and energy from being around other people, Saturday afternoon would not be miserable if I could accept the gift of presence, in addition to the two beautiful new trees.

Often, when we think about the gifts of people with extensive support needs, ‘presence’ is at the top of the list of gifts. Right here at the Disability and Faith Forum we’ve written a lot about presence, and how we bear the image of God and bring it to others, just in our being. Still, I was not expecting this to be a gift that I might receive through tree planting. Through this interaction I experienced the truth of wisdom offered by Canadian, Christian accessibility advocate, Judith Snow, who shared that everyone has two unique gifts: presence and difference. Through these, every person has the capacity to form half of a meaningful interaction with another person or people.

We all pitched in. My wife, daughter, and mother-in-law all committed to be in the backyard together as I planted the trees. My family members and I called on friends who knew how to plant trees, collectively worked to remember the steps, and then we did it together. I did much of the ‘heavy lifting’ for the two trees, and my family passed me tools and /or stood and sat nearby. It was a fun, albeit hard-working, afternoon. By the time supper rolled around, two new trees had taken up residence in our backyard, and one was right in the spot where the old spruce used to be.

If my family hadn’t been with me, and if others didn’t join via text and Facetime, the tree-planting-task would still have been accomplished. However, it would have been life-draining for me. I would have grumbled about, even resented, the gift and the gift-givers.

“Presence” brought fullness. What might have been simply a task to some, and what would have been a life-draining chore for me, became a fulfilling, life-giving, collective event. It was all because my family supported me by being with me, each of us playing an equally important role to accomplish our goal.

Let’s not underestimate the importance of being, or presence, as we live and work together. 

What things are you doing that can be fuller by doing them with others? Are you missing out on opportunities for others to share their gift of presence?

Dwayne is a white man who is bald and has a goatee. He wears a dark suit, and glasses and he is smiling at the camera.
Dwayne Milley serves as Vice President of Operations at Christian Horizons and is a regular contributor to the Forum. He lives with Karen and Deepika, his wife and daughter, in Toronto, Ontario.