Living without apology

Excuse me, did you know that there is a tree growing out of your front porch roof?

I was stopped in front of a house the other day because of construction. As I looked around, I noticed an old man, with a long beard, sitting on his front porch reading. He didn’t look up, didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that the road in front of his house was completely torn up and that rows of cars were stopped …that dust and dirt were being constantly kicked up and were wafting in waves onto his home (and onto him as well, I guess!). As I looked more carefully, I noticed a little tree growing out of the roof on top of his porch.

When I got home, I was telling Jack about it and he said, “Oh, I know which house you are talking about.”…I said, “You do?! You know the house with the tree growing out of the roof?” No, but he knew who the man was, knew that he was a retired mill worker and  that he sat on his porch most days reading. Then he asked me if I would like him to get a photograph of the man and his porch. I certainly did, if the man didn’t mind…which he didn’t.

He didn’t mind having his photograph taken, and when Jack asked him if he was aware that a tree was growing on his porch roof, he said that yes he was…wasn’t quite sure how long it had been growing though. Jack said that this man was completely comfortable, and very pleasant to talk with…didn’t say once, “Oh, I know. I really should pull it out (or cut it down) and I haven’t shaved in a long time, I am sorry that I look a little straggly for the picture (or you cannot take my picture, I look awful today). Nope, the man did not apologize for one thing about his life to this stranger who asked to photograph him.

I love everything about this…it seems in such contrast to my life. I find myself, so often, when people are coming over, running around cleaning, or covering up the defects, fixing, sprucing up (both myself and the house), which is not a bad thing, but when I find that I am apologizing for my appearance, or for a little animal hair, or trying to cover up what I think is not perfect, then I am not at peace.

I will probably never let a tree grow on top of my house, but if I can get to the point in life where I can accept myself, my aging body, my not perfect house, the towels with a couple of holes in them, the rip in the limoleum, the bit of rust on the kitchen sink, the unique way that the Divine is expressing through me which may not always meet everyone’s standards, then I think it will be a sign of grow in me, and not decay.

our neighbor

At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time.  ~Friedrich Nietzsche

21 thoughts on “Living without apology

  1. My insurance man was coming over one day and I found myself in the kitchen cleaning out the junk drawer!!!

  2. I love your story and the messages in it. And it’s so cool that this peaceful old gentleman, without moving from his porch, could teach us such a compelling lesson through you, Mary. Makes me think of angels…

  3. Thank you Mary, I love the idea of accepting oneself without apology, we do so much to hang on to our youth , try to be perfect in our homes. It’s nice to have a reminder in your words and in this man, who looks so kind to me, to just relax and be at peace.

  4. I can’t help but see his years and wonder IF wisdom only comes with age? I hope not… I’m not quite gray yet…but I’m getting there. I would like to learn today to be comfortable with myself, who I am…and not miss today for the worry of what other’s think. Thank you…good thought!

  5. I needed this slap alongside the head today. Have friends coming for lunch on Sun and I’m stressing about cleaning, spiffing outside, the fitting menu for dining al fresco, yada yada. They are the most comfortable people in the world to be with and I love going to their house for this reason. No apologies, they understand about cat hair, etc. It’s all about being with friends we love. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. My brother bought a 100 year old house with excessive Craftman charm that actually had an Oak tree growing in his front porch. I think that’s probably too close to his house.

    I’m betting that the tree growing on that man’s roof is a Chinese Sumac (Ailanthus altissima), a type of invasive species that will grow on a building, and springs up when ever the land is disturbed from development. I took a Woodsmanship course when I was teaching hunter education. The game warden who taught the class called it the “tree from hell.”

    I also had one of those moments when I was explaining to my friend and new dressage instructor that the living room is no longer that, but my bedroom which is some what piled up. Then she told me not to apologize.

  7. I remember years ago when my boys were young, having to get all dressed up, make-up, the works, for Symphony nights. My husband was the conductor, so the boys knew the drill – Dad in tails, and Mom in fancy dresses, and of course, a babysitter, boo! One morning, emerging from the bedroom in my bathrobe and hair sticking up all over the place, a make-up free face, my little son who was four at the time, crawled into my lap and said, “Mama, you looked really pretty last night, but I like you just regular!” Out of the mouths of babes. And now, almost thirty years later, I think I like “just regular” best too. What stories that man could tell, – look at those long fingers! And he reads every day. Wow. Thanks so much for this story, Mary.

    • Oh yes…and this theme will, very likely, show up again….l am a work in progress!

  8. I love going over to someone’s house and seeing that they have just as much animal hair and mess as I do. I’m hoping to come to a place where I can just let go and be hospitable instead of fretting and apologizing. Julia Childs said never apologize for a bad meal, which is sort of the same. Just be present, and move on.

  9. In real estate lingo, his home would be listed as ‘cozy with good shade possibilities’!
    Ah, that I may one day attain the serenity and selfless consciousness that this gentleman radiates.

    • p.s. He bears a striking resemblance to John Muir, the naturalist who spent years preserving Yosemite as the treasure it is.

  10. I love to read your blog and do so every day – this particular entry is so wonderful and important. Life is brief, and we are all unique and special – pieces of the greater picture and worthwhile just as we are. Thank you for sharing this story Mary.

  11. This is so great, I love the freedom that man has. If people come over, I always scramble around trying to neaten up the house too. It’s good to know that nobody really cares about the mess, they’ve come to see you.

  12. It is wonderful that we ARE! We are each a gift and needed to be reminded of this! Speaking for myself! 😉 Now each of us needs to or not..allow that to sink into our very core so we can radiate it back to the world.. A beautiful quiet face in that photo…Thank you both for the blog and photos and each of you for comments. I am a late comer today, as I just returned from a trip..Quiet to be in my outside home. Now off to walk the girls and then spend my day working on a grandson’s birthday quilt.

  13. Hi Mary…I love this post…it’s so true, really. I agree, it’s wonderful the man felt confident enough to not have to make excuses for the imperfections in his life. It’s a “What you see is what you get” kind of mentality, I suppose. It’s something we can all aspire too, but I agree, I stop at allowing a tree to grow out of my roof. (it might look like Grey Gardens inside his house, too, you never know…and the two Edies weren’t apologetic about the conditions of their home, either, lol).

    I found you through a link from Jon Katz’s blog….so glad I found you.


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