Jesus Wants Me for a Shade Tree

We’re in the middle of yet another heatwave—it’s been the hottest June ever, apparently—so this morning I got up at 5:30 a.m. to avoid the worst of the heat and go for a bike ride. But the sun had been up since 4:53 a.m. and by the time I got to the long, uphill part of my route on the east-facing flank of the local hill, I was gasping like a forgotten fish on the sun-baked deck of a Greek fishing boat. In the midst of my travails, I encountered a group of three elderly men. They too are regulars of the early morning fitness scene, and we run across each other every few weeks or so. We always greet in passing, but today one of them had a little more on tap. Looking somewhat bemused at the red-faced spectacle before them (they were walking downhill while I was spinning uphill), he called out: “Was haben Sie verbrochen, dass Sie heute nicht hitzefrei bekommen?” (What crime have you committed to not get a break from the heat today?)

I replied that only the gods know and they’re not telling, we enjoyed a laugh and then went about our separate ways.

To be sure, this was no earth-shattering encounter, but hours later it still makes me happy to think about it. We could have just as easily ignored each other as is common enough in a city of 2 million people—several other early birds I encountered this morning did, in fact—but we didn’t, and the readiness of that group to reach out and just be pleasant reminded me of one of the things I like about Madrid so much—the shade trees.

Ok, so the buildings are doing all the shade work in this photo. Still, you get the picture.

I’d been to Madrid twice before, but those trips had taken place in early spring when it was chilly and the trees still bony skeletons. You see, I grew up near the last full-service town before Death Valley, and I knew better than to plan trips to hot parts of the world in the summer. But for a variety of reasons I was back in Madrid last week for several days, and to my surprise, it wasn’t half bad. I mean, the temperatures were “only” pushing 90°F, which is much more tolerable than the 101°F forecast for the next few days. But what really made a big difference were all the shade trees lining not just the grand paseos but many shopping and residential streets as well. For someone like me who has had enough sun and heat to last a lifetime, the vast swaths of cool, inviting shade were manna for the soul.

At any rate, the confluence of these recent experiences—the momentary relief of a bit of spontaneous levity and the passing relief of shade on a hot day—has given birth to a labored metaphor: I think Jesus wants me to be a shade tree. At this time of year where weather and climate change conspire to roast humankind alive, the thought of sunbeams makes me want to take a siesta. Shade, on the other hand, makes me want to put on a wide-brimmed hat and go outside.

As trees, our sphere of influence may not be great—both in terms of reach and effect—but the relief we provide to passersby is reliable and, combined with many others, mitigates an otherwise inhospitable environment. And that’s not nothing!

So what do I mean by shade? No, not that. I mean “be kind and loving to all I see,” just like it says in the well-known children’s song, but with the imagery adapted for the summer season. Instead of ignoring or even adding to someone’s burden, I’ve resolved to be, at a minimum, a pleasant respite to those whom I encounter.

So far the effort hasn’t required too much skin off my nose, though that is perhaps due to the fact that my co-worker is on vacation this week and so we haven’t had an opportunity to fight over the thermostat (like the divine, his designs regarding the optimal temperature of the office are often inscrutable). Still, this idea of shading those who are in my immediate vicinity has helped me—on a day where I would usually spend my spare time shaking my fist at the heavens—turn a frown upside down.

Does the metaphor work for you?


  1. Excellent metaphor – thanks for sharing!

  2. Kristine says:
  3. Shade: the tie that binds desert people together!

  4. I was in Vienna many years ago. I noticed one thing: no trees. Far different from Hamburg, where trees were everywhere. Sounds like Madrid has it figured out too.

  5. John Mansfield says:

    Last year I spent a lot of time at a hospital dealing with a family illness. It came up once talking with a nurse that the staff was trained to extend friendly greetings liberally as they walked down the halls. This nurse said that coming from a small town this wasn’t a stretch for her, but it was new behavior for many. The policy did help contribute its measure of comfort, a little sense of belonging there rather than being a burden in the way. Being a “shade tree” is an unnatural act for many of us, but is worth the betrayal of our authentically oblivious selves.

  6. Mark B. says:

    A quick trip through some random streets in Vienna and Madrid shows that both have trees. And Madrid has a lot more graffiti. They seem to have figured out that too.

  7. I think this idea might make an appearance at our girls camp this summer. A whole new definition of shade that our YW will totally get. Haha! Thanks for the idea! I love it!

  8. arielabrown says:

    Love this metaphor!!! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

  9. The metaphor absolutely works for me. After 71 years on planet earth it still amazes me how a few pleasant words or just a sincere smile from someone can soothe the soul. It works whether I’m on the giving or receiving end. And the comfort returns each time the exchange is remembered.

  10. I was in Vienna yesterday. Veganista in the shade.
    This is an excellent post Peter. We‘ll eat ice cream together next time. 🍪👑

  11. I’m always game for Veganista in the shade, CQ!

    And thank you all for the kind comments.

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