There’s a white plastic bag hanging on a branch of a tall tree in our backyard. I don’t know where it came from or how it got there. It’s been there for months now. It has endured the change of the seasons – the snow, the rain, the sun, and the wind, and still it hangs on there, somehow clinging to that branch.
In our upstairs bathroom there’s a small window, and on a gusty day, when the window is open, I can hear the rustling of tree leaves and the distinct sound of a plastic bag waving in the wind. It looks so out-of-place, like someone’s trash lodged among branches, which would otherwise be a vision of natural foliage.
We know a plastic bag is useful for carrying groceries, for lining our small trash receptacles around the house, for collecting our empty pop cans, but certainly not for hanging in the tree branches of our backyards. This plastic bag has been manufactured at some factory, in some town, to be sold to someone, for some purpose. At some point in time, we distilled some elements of creation down to a synthetic substance, gave it a form, packaged it, and shipped it to a buyer, who used it to service a consumer. It’s a piece of utilitarian hardware for the modern age, and yet there it is, in my backyard, making its home among God’s creation.
For the first couple months, it bothered me every time I saw the plastic bag hanging there, out-of-place and out of reach. I waited for the day that a hard rain or a strong wind would dislodge it and I could discard it. But that day never came, and after a while, I got more accustom to its presence. It became a fixture in the backyard, and as the months have rolled by, it’s become a source of humor for me, and even a wonder. I laugh at the resiliency of this plastic bag to withstand some of the most inclement weather. After a hard storm, I find myself checking up on this plastic bag to see if it has survived. I wonder how it is that a fortunate wind could have placed this bag so high among the branches and yet even the harshest of storms will not bring it down. So, there it hangs, and I have a feeling it’ll be there for months to come.
That’s my story about a bag in a tree.
You might be reading this, and waiting for the “turn.” You’re waiting for me to turn this into an object lesson or pull some sort of principle or analogy out of it. I’m sure I could force something like that, but I’m afraid something important might be lost, so I’m not going to do that. I’m going to try to just let the story “be”… how I’ve told it, as it is, and I’m going to let it speak to you, if it speaks to you at all. There is a plurality of meaning in narrative, in story, that just can’t be distilled down to a principle or an object lesson without remainder, as if I should be the one to tell you what it should mean to you. The meaning is just as varied as people who read it. There is something about the richness of the narratives of our lives, even as given through our own perspectives, that takes us beyond just the meaning that we might ascribe to it. They take us beyond our principles, our truths, our lessons…