The Purple Tree

Every time it’s fall, and sometimes when it’s not, I think of a certain tree:

a tree that greeted me on my way out to class and in from work, 

a tree I loved because it was my favorite color,

a tree that defied the expectations of aging 

       and worked from dark to light.

It wore the mauve of fall overtaking summer’s green

then blushed bright scarlet before fading into orange.

 

Like the office assistant who brightens your weekday 

with hellos, hard candy, and care,

       though you may not know her well,

so was this tree to me.

It was my favorite for its unconventional beauty,

a constant each fall day 

on my walk by Fischer.

purple tree

The actual tree, Wheaton, IL. I took this photo in mid-October a few years back when it was starting to change colors. Can anyone identify it for me?

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Remembering Rodney Sisco

I believe too much in invincibility, but death comes anyway. Sometimes it is inescapable. Sometimes it is unexpected. Always it hurts.

His name was Rodney.

It hurts to see a man so full of love taken away. A man who had impacted my alma mater for three and a half decades, resolving conflict, bringing people together, listening to everyone who came into his office, establishing a space for us students in the Office of Multicultural Development (OMD), caring for students and especially those of color.

He was only in his fifties, but cancer doesn’t care.

Rodney Sisco.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought my future children might know and be blessed by him, this man who so profoundly shaped my life through the OMD. The classes and generations to come, what will they do without him to guide and support and influence and stand up for them?

Rodney Sisco, husband, father, mentor.

He was a gentle man, well over six and a half feet with a huge heart to match. He gave great hugs, and despite his busy schedule, he worked to create times to meet with me in his office when I asked. He had an open jar of candy on his center table and photos of his two sons and his wife covering his desk along with a few geeky trinkets. He was warm and welcoming. He was someone we could trust.

He was a gentle man.

Rodney Sisco, Director of the Office of Multicultural Development.

His skill set was expansive. He was one of a handful of people on campus certified in conflict resolution. He directed the OMD from a small corner office to the central space it is now and worked for the benefit of students, showing what a black man can achieve even at a PWI. He was intelligent, articulate, thoughtful, engaging, patient, gracious, and visionary. We needed him.

Dear Rodney.

He mediated for the whole campus, interacted with most students of color who attended Wheaton College (IL), and spoke life into all the individuals he met. Over the years, he must have impacted many thousands of people. I know I would not be the woman I am today without his influence.

In the few days since Rodney has passed on to be with The Lord (he died on 30 December 2018), I have seen testimony upon testimony about his life and the positive impacts he left. We will remember him well. I pray his legacy will encourage thousands more to come.

~~~

To those of you who would like to be taught by him even in his passing and learn more about his life, here are three of the chapels at which he spoke:

Peace.

God Gave Me a Mountain

Walking towards my house in the flat state of Illinois this evening, I thought I saw a mountain peaking over the trees. Struck by the beauty, I halted. I then realized it was merely a purple-grey cloud, but I remained still, gazing forward and pretending that it was a snow capped peak in Nepal stretching away, way, way into the sky.

Continuing onward, I thanked God for that beautiful illusion.

Every Monday for the past three weeks, it has rained…typically on me. First I had to walk to work through a flash flood. I arrived at the library soaked up to my thighs from the rain and puddles. Last week I escaped the rain in time, but this week I chose to walk umbrella-less through a sun shower. It was glorious.

At least half the days this summer have been rainy. The earth and streets smell fresh, and because my work is indoors, I am mostly dry. I find joy in the after-effects, however—the dripping grass squishing between my bare toes, muddy puddles along the roadside.

The downside of having so much rain and persistent puddles is that mosquitoes are finally breeding. Until last Sunday, only one insect had bitten me during the entire summer. Then I got three expansive spider bites that thankfully dried out by the time I got re-bitten yesterday on my hand and knee.

I still love the puddles, though.

I love rain and puddles and trees and mountains. They’re majestic, and they remind me of my old home and places I’d like to go such as the Adirondack Mountains, Kenya or Montana.

For living in what I call the “flatlands,” I live in a pretty beautiful place. Flat, open land was never my ideal, but I’ve learned to find beauty in the wide fields, straight roads and of course the railroad tracks. Still, I’m blessed to live on what is probably the most shaded street in Wheaton. I’m blessed to live in a house that has trees out front and lining the side. It feels enclosed.

When we lived in Connecticut, my mom always disliked Hartford Turnpike because the street was walled in by a tunnel of trees. She preferred the winding beauty of Upper State Street, with its more sunny view, the elementary school and the pond where I once caught a fish with a french fry. Dad preferred the direct route of Hartford Turnpike. My parents would race each other home, testing which road was the shortest, but it honestly depended on the traffic lights. I’d drive both roads depending on my preference that day, but I loved being surrounded by trees and rock faces on the interstate and highways in Connecticut.

I haven’t seen any rock faces in Illinois yet, but today God gave me a mountain. And he took away my breath.