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An almond tree stands in my yard, planted long ago by the pioneers who first settled here, mindful of their need for sustenance throughout the long winter. It has survived many seasons, and it is old for an almond tree — nearly done.

It was a seed once, a kernel of potential, its cells alive with unnamed intent . It sent up a tender shoot and uncurled its first grasping roots to obey its life purpose. The plant grew then, its green twig becoming woody and strong, its leaves reaching high for the sun, its roots reaching deep for stability and nutrients. It found its place and persisted, even thrived. Patiently it weathered storms; joyfully it shivered in spring breezes and dancing sunlight. Always it grew toward the light and toward the depths. The season came when it first blossomed and produced fruit. Some years there was much fruit, some years little. Its roots entwined with others’, its branches brushed those of the neighboring trees. It sheltered the irises that sprang up at its base and the sweet pea that snaked up its trunk. It suffered losses, to decay and disease, pests and the elements. Still it persisted.

It is hoary now with moss and deeply creviced bark. Many of its branches put forth no more leaves. Yet still when spring comes it remembers to dress in pink. Still when fall comes, it casts its fruit into the stream of time. Still it breathes in the air I breathe out, and breathes out the air I breathe in. The tree keeps its memory of all that it has seen, all that it has survived, in the record of its rings. And it will continue until its story is complete and time closes over it, untroubled and forever rushing on.

What is the purpose of a life? What is the “goal or object to be attained” from the fact of existence? Do all lives — long or short, tranquil or grief-filled, humble or
boldly drawn — share in the same goal? How can I, at 15, tell you of that goal that I grow towards almost as unknowingly as my almond tree?

The baby comes; she wraps her fist around the finger of the past and takes root. She gazes up into the eyes of her mother and begins to sprout. Her soft limbs grow sturdy and woody. The voices of the past speak to her and provide the loam of stability and nurturing. The future shines upon her and demands that she grow toward the light. Storms come and she bears them patiently, remembering the calm. Spring breezes tease out her smiles and make her dance. She puts forth blossoms — the promise of things to come. They are the colors, the scents and textures of her gifts. She produces fruit — a smile, a childish painting of a rainbow, a prayer, a piece of wisdom hard won. Her roots spread deep and entwine with others’. Her fingertips brush those who pass by her in her dance. She breathes in the air that others breathe out and breathes out the air that others breathe in.

Unlike a blind-growing tree, this girl has sentience with which to reflect, with which to ponder meaning. Her landscapes are changeable, her vistas far-flung. And she is ambitious, this girl; she has talent and drive. She learns and remembers and grows clever. She writes poetry that she puts to music and hopes to sing to others. She does battle with the world of words, striving to wring meaning from them and to find new ways to say the truest things. She keeps her eye on her weaker brothers and sisters, vowing to find ways to help them when maturity rewards her with sufficient strength.

But even if her gifts were all stripped away, if her cleverness was lost and she was reduced to simplicity and dependency, her life purpose would still remain: to grow toward the light; to spread roots in the depths; to be connected to others; to persist until the end.

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