Tuesday night a massive lightning storm blew through Basel. It was a real rumbler, leaving trees down all over the city.
Yesterday morning as I walked by Schutzenmatt Park, it was like a disaster zone. Branches down everywhere. But then I was shocked to see this enormous grandmother of a tree had toppled, crushing a wooden swingset and changing the skyscape completely.
What first struck me was the size and age of the tree — surely at least a few hundred years old, and utterly irreplaceable. But then, even more so, the way people gathered silently around it in shellshocked grief, like a collective mourning. Like we all sensed what a tremendous loss it was.
Throughout the day people continued to gather and just stand wordlessly, arms crossed, watching this behemoth of a tree slowly being sawed into bits.
This morning, there were even more. Parents balancing toddlers on their hips, silently taking it in. Elderly women holding up cameras. Young men cycling by, slowing and dismounting in shock.
Then I noticed that overnight, someone had brought candles and made a mandala of leaves and branches on the remaining trunk. The candles are still flickering now, even as the heavy machinery tears the remainders of the tree apart.
It feels so holy, this altar. So perfect and necessary and right.
It’s the same energy as when people stand quietly in European cathedrals, staring up awestruck, full of respect for the labor and ingenuity and sweat and creative spirit that built these sanctuaries hundreds (or thousands) of years ago.
This was another temple, gone in a literal flash. Impermanent, like everything else.
It provided shade for humans through the First World War and the Second and probably the French Revolution and maybe even the American one, too? Ancestors celebrating birthdays and mourning losses and lolling around on lazy Sundays on blankets under its branches.
This morning, I’m so grateful the candles are still burning.