In the Shadow of the Sorrow Tree

The Story

A long time ago in a far away land there lived a Wise Man. He sat at the base of a mountain and people came to him from all over the land asking for his guidance and wisdom to help solve their unsolvable problems.

The Wise Man’s reputation was that he was magical and could do wondrous miracles in solving the pain and misery of seekers of peace.

One morning, an old man came to him. The man walked with a cane, his hands were gnarled, his back was bowed, and pain was etched deeply in his face. Each step he took echoed throughout his body and caused the lines to grow deeper in his wrinkled face.

He came to the Wise Man and said, “Help me, please. I have lived in pain these many years. It gets worse each day. All I want is the comfort of death. With each sun rise, my body betrays me yet again.

I’m a burden on my children and grandchildren. All I can do is sit and tell stories.

Is there something you can do that will cure my illness and make me whole again?”

The Wise Man listened. “Come back in the morning and I will help you.”

For the first time in many months, the old man smiled as he hobbled away. He had hope for a future without pain.

Later that morning, a woman came to him. She was wracked with sobs as she told him of the death of her little son. Tears flowed as she recounted the accident that took her precious child from her six months earlier.

She said to the Wise Man, “Help me, please. My heart is broken. I can do nothing but weep. My husband is tired of my tears. My other children are sad that they cannot comfort me.

I’m angry at God for taking my beautiful, innocent child away from me. My grief overwhelms me, and I don’t know what to do. Can you help me?”

The Wise Man patted her arm and said, “Come back in the morning and I will help you.”

The woman left crying, but with hope that in the morning her broken heart would be healed.

That afternoon, a handsome man came to see the Wise Man.

He said, “Help me, please. I built a business that spread to cities throughout the country. I lived in wealth and comfort with my wife and many children. We had every earthly thing anyone could want.

My business partner, a man I thought of as a brother, one I trusted with all I had, robbed me. He ruined my good name and disappeared.

My money is gone. I now live in poverty with my wife and children. I’m disgraced in my family and my city.

I’m so angry at my friend’s betrayal that sometimes I find it difficult to take another breath. The burden of my disgrace is too difficult to bear. I don’t know what to do.”

The Wise Man listened and said, “Come back in the morning, and I will help you.”

The man went away with the hope that in the morning his disgrace would somehow be lifted and he would once again be a man of honor.

The next morning, the old man leaning on his cane, the weeping woman, and the burdened businessman stood before the Wise Man. He gave them each a piece of paper and a pencil.

“I want you to write the name of your Sorrow at the top of this paper. Below it write the details of your story.”

The three sat down and began writing. Each wept with the remembering, as they detailed the pains they suffered.

When all three were finished, the Wise Man said, “At the top of this mountain is a tree. It is the Sorrow Tree.

He handed each of them a piece of string. “Take your sorrow and tie it onto the Tree. Your burden will be lifted.

The economy of the Tree requires that you choose another sorrow and make it yours. When you have chosen, come back and speak to me about the sorrow you’ve chosen.”

The man and woman helped the old man navigate the steep trail to the top.

In the light of the early afternoon, they stood before the Sorrow Tree. Hundreds of notes fluttered among the branches of the Sorrow Tree.

Eagerly, the three hung their Sorrows on the tree.

One after the other, each of the three plucked paper after paper from the tree in search of a sorrow more bearable than their own.

By early evening, they had each picked a sorrow from the Sorrow Tree. Silently, they made their way back to the Wise Man.

“Tell me,” The Wise Man said to the old man with the cane, “What sorrow have you chosen?”

“I have chosen to keep my illness. I’ll go home, tell my stories, and do what I can until I leave this life.”

The Wise Man smiled and nodded.

“And you?” he asked the woman, “What sorrow have you chosen?” 

“I’ve chosen to take the sorrow of my dead son. I’ll go home and love the children I have. I’ll say prayers of gratitude for the time I had with my beautiful son. I’ll strive to be a better wife, mother, and woman.”

The Wise Man smiled and nodded.

“And you?” he asked the businessman.

“I’ve chosen to keep my disgrace. I’ll go home to my wife and children and begin to build a new business. A business that will allow me to support my family and have more time to be the husband and father I have thus far not been.”

The Wise Man smiled and nodded.

The three people left the Wise Man smiling and sitting at the base of the mountain.

What I learned from sitting in the shadow of the Sorrow Tree:


Life Happens. It’s about learning from the circumstances, not about the circumstances.

I tend to get stuck in a rut and let my circumstances sit on me. I tend to think “If this thing didn’t happen or if I didn’t make that choice, then every thing would be different, better.”

When life happens and I focus on the circumstances, I miss the point. Those events and choices are in the past. I can’t unlive them or unchoose them.

But there are some things I can do. I can learn from them if there’s a lesson to be had. I can survive them with grace. I can revel in them, wallow in them, mourn them, laugh at them, accept them, and move on. Or not.

It’s my choice. My response to the circumstance dictates whether or not I get through the experience in the most honorable way possible.

Life happens. Sometimes it’s not so good. Sometimes it’s not fair. Sometimes it’s glorious. The good news is—this too shall pass. The bad news is—this too shall pass.


It’s Always About Me. When I get myself in what I call a “high emotion” state, where I want to yell “you make me so mad,” and then throw a major temper tantrum, I’m being irresponsible.

The truth is that I make myself mad. I need to blame someone else for my poor situation because if I take responsibility for what’s happening in my life then I have to do something to change it. It’s easier to be a martyr than a doer.

I didn’t understand that by choosing to sit it the shadow of the Sorrow Tree and wallow in my misery, I was making a choice.  

Finally, I understand that when I accept responsibility for the way I respond to challenges, I’m free to make different choices. I’m free to step into the light


It’s Never About Me. (An  interesting paradox). When someone else is experiencing a high emotion, and they make me the target of their anger/sorrow/joy, I know they’re living in the shadow of the sorrow tree.

Usually, when the blame game is being played, I know I’m a convenient target. I don’t have to get all wrapped up in being responsible for their feelings, for their life. I don’t have to accept blame, feel bad about myself, defend myself, or feel self-righteous and injured.

This is a tricky one, because I know my stupid choices affect others badly sometimes. (See Number 2 above).  I know I’ve made mistakes that caused others pain. I know I need to put on my big girl pants and accept responsibility for the havoc my choices have wrecked in other’s lives.

Since all the tears in my body won’t change one second of the past, forgiveness is the only path forward. Forgiving myself. Forgiving others. Allowing others to forgive if they want to, or not forgive if they want to sit in the shadow of the Sorrow Tree for a bit longer.

Sitting is a Choice

Sitting in the shadow of the Sorrow Tree is a choice. It’s safe. And quiet. I needed the rest when I was there.

Now it’s time to climb down the mountain and journey into that unknown territory called today.


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