(Heads up: this essay contains major spoilers on some super old things and light spoilers on season two of Ted Lasso.)
Spring has landed in Charlotte. Maybe it hasn’t happened where you are, but here we’ve had blooms for about a month. Camellia blooms kick off the year in January. Then the daffodils make their appearance. And after that come two trees: one I love, and one I hate.
Because I don’t want to spend much time on it, I will briefly mention that my hated tree is the Bradford Pear. It looks innocent enough: beautiful white blooms perch atop an arched crown of branches. But these trees are too fast-growing to support themselves for long. They split easily in wind and winter weather. Instead of strengthening the forest, they make every tree around them weaker. They also smell like dead fish.
In the other corner, my beloved tree sits: behold, the graceful Eastern Redbud. These little trees also bloom in March and April, but they are brilliant purple. They nestle in among other trees, content to grow in shady areas when they need to. The Arbor Day Foundation tells us that “George Washington reported in his diary on many occasions about the beauty of the tree and spent many hours in his garden transplanting seedlings obtained from the nearby forest.”
Maybe you are chuckling at my drastic personification of these trees, making one a virtuous beauty and another a vile-smelling, evil underminer. But they are instructive to me. Let me explain.
I learn from the redbud tree, as it sits in the shade of the others. It doesn’t clamor for glory — or even much sunlight. It doesn’t shove its way to the top. It adds beauty where it is, being in second place.
I’ve always been intrigued by the story of Michael Collins. Do you know his name? You probably don’t. But you do know the names Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Collins was the man who stayed in the spacecraft while Aldrin and Armstrong were on the surface of the moon.
Reports at the time depicted Collins as the man who was left behind; he was portrayed as the guy that missed out. What a shame. But Collins never desired such a remembrance. In his memoir Carrying the Fire, Collins wrote “If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God only knows what on this side. I like the feeling. Outside my window I can see stars — and that is all.” Later on, he told the New York Times, “I had this beautiful little domain. I was the emperor, the captain of it, and it was quite commodious. I had warm coffee, even.”
What a brilliant execution of being a person who, to our casual observation, was left out of the most transcendent moment of the 20th century. But Collins had the full picture: he knew he was as integral to the mission as the other two — if he did not fulfill his commitments, the other men would die and it would be a global tragedy. He savored his time alone in the stars, completed his task list, and drank his coffee. Where would the mission have been without him?
He was a redbud, content to be in the shade.
I can think of other examples. Where would Karl Malone be without John Stockton? Elton John’s catalog of songs would be short without Bernie Taupin. Harry Potter’s prophecy wouldn’t have been fulfilled without the boy who shared his birthday month, Neville Longbottom. And of course, Frodo wouldn’t have made it up Mount Doom without his devoted Sam Gamgee.
As the second season of Ted Lasso wound down, we saw a person refuse to stay in the shade. Nate resisted his role as an assistant coach, flatly saying he was tired of giving his boss ideas he’d take credit for. His fellow assistant, Roy, sums it up, “That’s the job, son.”
Because he was not content to stay in the shade, Nate made everyone around him weaker.
When I consider proverb after proverb, such as,
One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. (Proverbs 29:23)
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2)
I think of the redbud, happy to stay out of the sun and bloom brilliantly anyway. And I think of the redbuds that walk among us: how I overlook them, and how I want to be more like them.
It is no accident that the words, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” comes right after the words, “But he gives more grace.” (James 4:6)