I started high school in 1969. I attended an all-girl Catholic High School in Jennings, Missouri, called Corpus Christi High School. My three sisters had all attended Corpus Christi when it was still co-ed. My brother Kevin started there as a freshman in 1965, but by the end of his first year, it had become exclusively a girls’ school.
Since we had no students on whom to levy our crushes, the two male lay teachers became the objects of our reveries, our cafeteria chattering, and our soulful, lingering looks. One of them, Jerry Curran, taught Religion and volunteered at the Draft Center, where conscientious objectors such as my brother went to get advice on how to plead C.O. Needless to say, we all adored Mr. Curran and eagerly embraced any pearl of wisdom that he cast at our feet.
Perhaps that is why I so vividly recall one day when we went on a field trip to a park with Mr. Curran and he taught us about tree therapy.
Mr. Curran, it must be noted, never returned the longing glance of any of us. His interest in us remained what it so obviously was: that of a young teacher wanting to do a good job with his first raft of open minds. On this day, he had us lie under a tree, looking upward into the vast green expanse of its leaves. He told us to focus on whatever caught our attention: the color with its variants caused by the interplay of light and shadow; the shimmering noise, when the wind passed through the foliage; the sweep of the branches toward the sun. “And breathe,” he reminded. “Don’t forget to breathe.”
It was not until we had boarded the bus, and returned to school and his classroom, that Mr. Curran made a tie-in between what we had felt while gazing into the tree’s branches and the grace of God. I don’t recall his words, nor do I remember if those words resonated with me. But I do remember the tree therapy.
This morning as I sit in my rocker, my tablet in its docking station resting on the wooden lap desk that I got at a yard sale in Fayetteville, I can turn my head and see the rising crown of our umbrella maple, full and lush. The richness of its spring growth holds the shadows and light which I remember from that afternoon in the park with our teacher. I watch the gentle sway of its branches. I close my eyes. I remember to breathe. The therapy begins to work.