We all need a ‘trouble tree’

Beth Cooper Howell

St Francis Bay mother, wife and freelance journalist Beth Cooper-Howell takes a look at the other side of life in Woman on Top, her weekly lifestyle column





One of my best friends, Sally, told us a story this week that’s worth sharing. I had wanted to write about the pain and politics of black hair, but even the most relevant trending issue can reach saturation point. For me, that moment was Christine Qunta’s insightful Sunday Times article about racism and hair in South Africa.

I may want to address what she said – unpack her generalisations, gently counter the stereotypes she subconsciously entrenches in a country that needs less of that, but not today – this has been a sensitive, simmering week for education, teachers, parents, teenagers, cultural tradition and race relations.

There comes a time when all of us really need to hang our troubles on a trouble tree. Just for a moment.

A hardworking man was doing his best to make ends meet and provide for his family, but times were tough. He never had quite enough, and his job was difficult and precarious. Nonetheless, each day, he showed up for his shift at a construction site, and he never complained.

The man’s boss, a busy and important executive, was intrigued by his employee, who always smiled, was immensely popular with his co-workers and laboured cheerfully each day, apparently content with his lot.

One day, a heavy thunderstorm and gale force winds kept most of the crew away, and construction was halted. The only two men to arrive for work were the cheerful labourer and his boss.

“What are you doing here?” asked the boss. “It’s hurricane weather and you should be at home. I’ll give you a lift.”

The boss and his employee drove across a series of dirt roads to the man’s home – a two-bedroom cabin which was, though very old and in poor nick, spotless and well cared for.

The boss was invited to come in out of the rain, dry off and have a cup of tea.

As they arrived at the front door, the boss noticed that, before going inside, the man gently touched the leaves of a small bush growing next to the tiny stoep.

Once inside, joy and laughter erupted as the man ran to his wife and children, catching them up into big bear hugs, telling jokes, enthusiastically introducing his boss and generally infecting the tiny, threadbare lounge with happy, carefree energy.

Later, on the way to his car, the boss asked the man why he had touched the bush so carefully and lovingly before going inside the house.

The man replied: “That is the little tree on which I hang on all my troubles before I go into my house. I have many things to worry about, but these worries do not belong in my home, or to my wife and children. I leave them behind and then pick them up again the next morning when I leave for work.”

The boss thought that this was a noble ideal, but futile. Picking up the worries again each morning was still a burden, surely?

“That’s the funny thing, boss,” said the man. “Every morning, when I go out to that tree to fetch my worries, there is always one less worry hanging on it than there was the night before. The more I do it, the fewer worries I have.”

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