Persons, places and things: mercy and the tree service


By Barb Arland-Fye

Workers with a tree service parked two large trucks alongside the narrow street perpendicular to my driveway to trim the neighbor’s trees, blocking access to the road. On a beautiful Sunday around 11:30 a.m., they probably figured no one in the neighborhood needed to go anywhere. But I did, and anxiety crept into my mind at the possibility of being late for an out-of town assignment.

I called out to the tree service workers, “I need access to this road by 1:15 p.m.” They assured me they’d be done by then. They were not. When I returned from a bicycle ride (timed so that I could get some exercise in before the long road trip), the workers were busily trimming trees. Tangled tree branches clogged the road. Again, I called out, “I need access to this road.” My tone of voice was impatient.

The owner of the business approached me and said, “Where’s your husband, I need to talk with him.” Steve greeted the business owner who, it turns out, trimmed trees in our yard last year. As I headed into the house, I heard Steve say, “Oh, no. How bad is it?” Panic entered my mind. I asked what happened. A tree had fallen in the wrong direction and knocked out our mailbox. “Oh,” I said with relief, grateful it was just the mailbox. I headed into the house to get ready for my assignment and to allow Steve to work things out with the tree workers.


When I got into my car for my out-of-town trip, the tree workers were still at work and the road remained blocked. I got out of the car and called up to the tree worker who was seated on a perch high above the truck. I told him I needed the truck to be moved.

Everything stopped. The mechanical claw — filled with branches — thumped down to the truck’s surface. The business owner got into the truck, avoided eye contact with me and moved the truck. I waved at him in a now-too-late effort to demonstrate appreciation.

The two-hour drive to my assignment provided plenty of time to think about how I handled my interactions with the tree workers and others. I thought about the references to the word “mercy” during the Mass and to Pope Francis’ “Year of Mercy.” Every morning, in personal prayer, I ask God to help me grow to be more merciful towards others. So what happened? Why did my prayer go unanswered that day — and some other days?

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he laments that “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but do what I hate” (Romans 7:15). Paul, I hear you!

God, however, has a way of reminding me about what I pray for. That bare ground where trees once stood on my neighbor’s property catches my attention every time I enter or leave my driveway.

God also has a sense of humor, which I catch a glimpse of, such as in the case of the mailbox. Some years ago, another neighbor living up the road from our house drove into the mailbox because of icy road conditions. Did I show mercy then? I don’t remember, but chances are I probably was more interested in having her replace the mailbox. God knows, I’m on a long learning curve in this pilgrim journey on earth!

By the way, Steve mounted a hard hat on the top of the mailbox.

(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at

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