Once again, I’m struck by the idea of being good and the difficulty of actually living it out. As my family and friends know, I delight in being a little rascally bad and concocting all sorts of exploits with a slight scent of mischievousness in them.
Most recently, I got my oldest daughter and six grandchildren to help me remove a beautiful tree stump from a huge pile of cut trees, obviously stacked to burn. The problem was that the stump was on a neighbor’s property, and he was unreachable by phone or drop by, which I attempted several times.
So, my dilemma – should I let the stump be burned into oblivion or rescue it for the joy and delight of posterity? Yep, you guessed it. I talked my posterity into a bona fide tree trunk heist!
In broad daylight, my daughter, my six underage accomplishes, and I descended on the premises, hoisted the stump into the back of her SUV, then departed unseen and uninjured. I promised them all I would return the stump if, when asking for permission after the fact, I was denied.
Granted, I live out in the country — way out in the country — where folks cut their own trees, burn wood piles whenever they please, and clear their own land all without permits or anyone’s permission. So, removing a lone tree stump plopped up against a huge burn pile is like helping to reduce the height of a scorching blaze or caring for the environment or doing my civic duty, or, well, would you believe, going green?
I’ll admit to a twinge of guilt about not getting the owner’s permission. Maybe I was being motivated by a bit of covetousness, as was suggested by one of my grandchildren. But, there just seemed something right and good about saving the beautiful tree stump. You see, that’s my point. Was I wrong for saving a magnificent, three-foot diameter, flowered-shaped tree trunk, which charms and delights the eyes? Was I wrong to rescue it from being discarded by someone who seemingly didn’t care?
Remember I said I’d go back and ask permission from the owner? Well, I did. He was outside on his porch grilling steaks when I drove up.
“Hi. I’m your neighbor, and I wondered if you wanted the tree stumps laying against your burn pile?” I innocently inquired.
“What stumps?” he asked, in return. “Oh, the wood over there? Nope. Take what you want.”
“Thanks, I already did,” I said and drove home smiling.
So, I was right! The owner didn’t notice, care, or want the tree stump we stole. I was right…but wrong at the same time. Right about the owner not wanting it, but wrong about taking it without asking first.
This tree stump incident has got me thinking. Can there be right-but-bad and wrong-but-good? Is there a criterion for being good that includes and involves everyone? Or, is there only what’s good for me and what’s good for you? What does it mean to be good? Am I living that out in front of posterity?
I’ll share my thoughts next time I write. In the meantime, what do you think and believe?