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  In the summer when I was twenty-two, I had an encounter with a beautiful tree.


  That summer, in Switzerland, I was having a great time with Nora. She was a blonde-haired girl from Ireland, and we were attending a French Summer Program at the University of Freibourg. Come weekends and holidays, the two of us would roam the hills and fields on our rented bicycles. We had already visited all the quaint little towns in the vicinity. We loved to ride our bikes all the way up to the top of the hill, and then slide down the winding roads. I loved the breathtaking and dizzying speed, with the trees flanking the two sides of the road flashing by our eyes and the whooshing sound of the wind in our ears. I would be filled with a desire to howl.


  The hills and fields of summer were refreshing and enchanting. Unexpected beauty lurked around every corner.


  The tree appeared in such a moment.


  Right after a hairpin curve, right before us, a valley appeared, and on the opposite slope was an expanse of trees.


  The trees were intentionally planted, because the entire slope was filled with the same trees. Thanks to sunshine galore, the trees were lush and green, handsome and majestic. The verdant green extended all the way to the green grass in the valley. Yet, one solitary tree stood out.


  It stood alone in front of all the other trees, glistening gold. The leaves resembled glittering orbs, halo after halo of warm gold. It must have been there for a long time already, because there was already a blanket of golden leaves on the grass beneath the tree. Though I was standing on the hill on the other side, I could still see the leaf that had just fallen. It fell into the pile of fallen leaves that had already started to fade and shrivel.


  It was getting dark, and the shadows in the wilderness lengthened. But the golden tree emitted a mysterious glow. Compared to the hundreds of verdantly green trees of uniform shape and size, the solitary tree of gold seemed to be more suited to grow on this hill. But because it looked so different, it seemed to be embarrassed. With its warm, delicate and glowing leaves, it stood there all alone, filled with a sadness of not being understood.


  Nora said, “It’s late, let’s go back.”


  “But there is still light,” I said, as I continued my walk down towards the valley. I wanted to get closer to the tree, to examine the tree that was so different.


  But Nora insisted upon going back. On most days, she is the most accommodating travel mate. But on that summer afternoon, there was no room for bargaining in her tone.


  Thus, I never go to walk into the valley. Maybe Nora was right. Now, many years later, I still think maybe she was right. One has to keep beauty that is meant to be cherished at a distance. If I had walked up close to that tree, I might have discovered the flaws in the leaves and the stains in the trunk. That would have tainted my first appreciative impression of the tree. But I never got to walk into the valley. (I can never go back to that moment in time to walk into the valley and then climb back up.) Thus, the tree will be there forever, all alone, yet all aglitter with heavenly sheen.


  Those who are singularly blessed by heaven seem destined to stand all alone in this world. Isn’t that often the case?


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