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Where did the forest go?

I recently met some old grammar school friends in Jim Thorpe, PA for a tour of the town and a possible rail trip along the scenic Lehigh Gorge. Our friend “Pocono Bob” lives there, and warned us the town may be busy. Busy was not the word for it; the town was packed. Given that I am a long-time commuter, another trip on a train was not on my bucket list, so I was not disappointed when we went with plan B: a tour of the town that ended at the old Museum Jail. Later that night, by the warmth of the fire ring, we admired the most beautiful sunset ever. Margaret made the comment, “Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.” I have often heard this saying but never really comprehended the meaning of it; I kind of knew, but not exactly. I mentioned this to her, and she agreed, and that was that.

On Sunday we were up early to say our good-byes and to head back to our respective homes. I didn’t think about the previous night’s comment until I got a text from my friend explaining it. Her text said “Forest/Trees: People who pay too much attention to the details miss the overall view.” In the context of the sunset the night before, she was right.

The rainy summer we have had this year has left many of us a bit snarky, especially those of us who commute and must deal with things like downed trees on the railroad tracks after a storm. One particular day found us halfway across the Moodna Viaduct trestle stopped on our way into the Salisbury Mills station. The skies were still dark and ominous, as if the storm was not done with us. The train car was abuzz with people on their cell phones calling about the delay, others regurgitating the complaints about New Jersey Transit and the service. It seemed everyone was too preoccupied with their own drama to notice the “forest for the trees.”

Here we were, perched 20 stories in the sky, high above the tree tops; so high we could almost touch the low-hanging clouds that drifted dancing in the wind, unattached to the darker clouds above. Off in the distance of the western horizon, the clouds began to open. As they did, they revealed a beautiful blue sky that framed a glorious rainbow. The rainbow hung there in its entire splendor, colors enhanced by the frame of the dark clouds above. Beneath the rainbow were the colors of the sunset, golden yellows and oranges, but a fleeting sight as it slowly, patiently disappeared into the night.

As I stared out the train window the rainbow left with the sun, I noticed that only a few had noticed this God wink from above. Most were still caught up in their own drama, now complaining to the conductor—as if he had the power to move the train but would not. It was dark outside now. Gone was the sunset and the rainbow sent to ease the tension, gone was the earth below us, gone were the tree tops. The train was moving, slowly trudging toward the station, but the storm was back. As the passengers disembarked, the winds kicked up and they were pelted by the rain; umbrellas snapped like twigs, hats flew and many a person twirled around with thoughts of re-boarding the train.

The doors were closed now and the train lurched forward. I sat back and smiled at the sight I had witnessed. In this moment, the conversation by the fire ring became crystal clear. As sure as the sun set, it will rise in the morning. As sure as the train was delayed, it will travel again, and as sure as the clouds came, they will open to blue sky. This evening many of my fellow commuters had not seen the “forest for the trees”—a loss to them indeed.

 

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