The Answer in The Forest

     The tension in Paul’s muscles made every breath labored. He sat there looking out this window questioning his very existence. The yellow trees of fall were letting loose their leaves onto the forest floor that surrounded his small one bedroom cabin.  Paul questioned every decision he had made. 
     His laptop’s screen glowed into his fallen face. Paul saw nothing but despair around him. His book sales had died off, and he felt like he had been hidden in the abyss. Paul had followed the advice of some of the most successful people in his life. He had worked day and night. Everything should have resulted in resounding early success.
     Paul looked up at the ceiling. The old logs were almost black with age. Splinters, gashes, and scrapes covered much of the wood, but the roof was solid. Paul spoke towards the ceiling, “Why, God? I thought you wanted me here. I thought you gave me stories to share. It’s like I don’t exist. Is that your idea? Am I really this useless? No income, no hope, no readers?”
      The computer’s lid gave Paul little resistance as he closed it. Paul knew his body was too broken to enter the rat race once more. Paul mumbled to himself, “Run with the big dogs or stay on the porch.” A smile traced across his taut face. He remembered a time when he not only ran with the big dogs, he led them. Paul let out a long sigh and stood up.
     The cabin’s old wooden floors creaked under his weight. Although Paul could feel small dips in the wood, there was no sign of structural rot as he paced laps around the open living room and kitchen. Plates would rattle whenever he drew near the hutch with its shelves of blue patterned platters and plates. Paul knew he was going nowhere fast, but he needed to expel the anxiety and stress that had built up inside.
     A wooden bolt held the cabin’s only door in place when it had a resident inside. Age and seasons had swollen and shrank the pin and the sleeve. Now a temporary resident was required to wiggle and cajole the wood into place when they wanted the door locked. The same process had to be employed when a vacationer wished to be set free. A sliding latch, also of wood, then had to be set free through a wiggle of the front door to coax it loose.
     Paul managed to get himself into the open air after a few seconds of wrestling with the front door. He sat in a nearby chair on the front porch and let the cold air of the late fall flow over his body. The cold breeze seemed to wash away the tension it found as it blew over his body. Paul looked out at the woods and spoke into the woods, “What am I supposed to do? I’m ruined.”
     “That sounds a bit dramatic.”
     Paul startled. He turned to see a brown bearded man with a broad smile. He was not a large man, Paul guessed around five feet eight inches, maybe five feet nine. His green flannel shirt and dirty jeans gave him the look of an old lumberjack. Without asking permission is sat down next to Paul and reached over and patted Paul’s hand.
     Paul wanted to pull his hand back, but for some reason allowed the stranger to continue. Something was comforting and familiar in his touch.
     “I’m sorry, do we know each other?” asked Paul.
     The stranger looked him straight in the eye. Paul thought his brown eyes looked plain, but they had a twinkle that was hard to miss. The stranger replied, “You know me better than you think. I was just watching you in the cabin. You know, the answers you seek have been in front of you this whole time.”
     “You were watching me?” Paul asked in an alarmed voice. A shiver flowed down his spine. “Who are you?”
     The stranger responded, “Paul, how have you become so blind? The wood, Paul. It’s all around you.” The stranger swept his arm across and around as he spoke. “Both alive and dead, these trees serve a purpose. When they are alive, they convert CO2 to oxygen so you can breathe. Their beauty gives a sense of peace, and when they are harvested, they provide shelter.”
     Paul shook his head, “I don’t understand. So are you saying I’m dying, but I have a purpose?” The question shot a bolt of fear through him. He wondered once more what this stranger’s intentions were.
     The stranger’s eyes seemed to suddenly lock Paul’s attention. Paul felt pulled towards this frightening man with no name. The stranger continued, “Paul, stop looking for answers in your mind and look at what you’re seeing. The wood is scarred, it’s going dormant, and one day the leaves will sprout again. The trees will spread their pollen and seeds and not only live but reproduce. Yet, the scars and knots are going to remain. All this dead wood that makes the cabin has rested from its known existence, and yet it provides shelter to troubled travelers looking for peace.”
     Paul nodded and scowled as he attempted to respond, “So, you’re saying all the scars I carry on my body, and all this stress and anxiety that are a burden to me have a purpose. Are you saying that even with my weakness and despair my life still has a purpose?”
     The bearded stranger smiled, patted Paul’s hand, stood and walked off the porch. He looked back at Paul as he rounded the corner of the house, “Now you understand.” Then the stranger disappeared from view.
     Paul pushed himself out of his chair and quickly made his way around the corner of the house. There was nobody there. Paul did laps and could find nobody. The cold seemed to cut through Paul’s body, and he shivered. A Bible verse popped into Paul’s head, “If you seek me you will find me.” 
     The answer had been there the whole time. Paul knew he was not alone, and he knew what he needed to do. Paul made his way back into the cabin. He tossed another log into the woodstove and returned to his computer. He needed to keep writing because his role in this life had not ended yet.

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