Then one day I asked Maurice to tell me more about his life, about what oxygen meant to him. It turned out that he’d been chronically ill as a child but very proud and independent and determined not to become invalid. Wearing oxygen, to him, represented surrender in a very old battle. Plus, Maurice was a dapper man and ugly plastic tubing and metal tanks did not fit his self-image. Ultimately he agreed to use oxygen only in the privacy of his home. It wasn’t ideal, medically, but it was what he could abide. I reflected later that without calling it such, Maurice and I had participated in the relatively new model of shared decision-making, in which patient preferences are taken into account as much as doctors’ edicts.
Like Maurice, there was more to my “noncompliance” regarding the white pine trees than met the eye, or Jack’s eye, anyway. To him, the problem, and its solution, were obvious. He likely thought my main concern was the cost of taking down the trees. I did flinch at the expense, but mostly I just loved the trees and couldn’t bear to lose them. I feared severing the connection I feel to the young mother I once was, holding my now grown babies while looking at the trees’ perfect, horizontally oriented limbs. Contemplating their loss, I could relate to Henry David Thoreau who, a hundred and fifty years earlier, living not far from where I live now, wrote The Death of a White Pine in which he mourned the loss of a tree just like mine. He wrote: “A plant which it has taken two centuries to perfect, rising by slow stages into the heavens, has this afternoon ceased to exist…Why does not the village bell sound a knell?”
In the end, Jack and I agreed that the tree in the middle, the dead one, should come down, but that we would wait and see how the other two fared. It wasn’t exactly what either of us wanted, but it was a plan both of us could live with. Like healthy trees facing a strong wind, we’d each bent a little. We’d each complied.