“Fear not death for the sooner we die, the longer we shall be immortal.”
― Benjamin Franklin
It’s never easy saying goodbye to a loved one. A few years ago my family was faced with the awful decision of having to put down our family dog. He’d gotten bit by something while out in the yard and over the next week I poured as much of my heart and wallet into pursuing every avenue to fix what was wrong with him. In the end it was a losing battle that regardless of how much I wanted it to turn out differently there wasn’t enough medicine, science, or time to fix what the poison in his veins was destroying. I searched my soul and tried to find out how I would know when it was “time” to put him out of his misery. People said that I’d know when it was time “when the soul goes out of their eyes” and eventually I saw that moment. At the point I was simply keeping him alive to avoid having to deal with losing him I knew what had to be done.
This week I experienced this same feeling as I saw the pictures of the pruning of the Toomer’s Oaks. The soul of those trees has gone out and it’s time to make the hard choice and put the old girl down. I realize what this means, and I realize that it’s not a popular decision. But even IF we are able to save what’s left, what are we saving. Does keeping a tree that at best may have 25% of its branches worth it? Does rolling a leafless and limbless tree trunk really give anyone comfort? Sure we’ll get to go up there and roll the old girl one more time this year, and sure that’s important for us, but is anyone really going to enjoy it? Every picture posted since Harvey Updyke attempted to destroy the Auburn Spirit has just made me sad. The trips I’ve made to Toomer’s corner to see it roped off like a crime scene and inaccessible only strengthen what I’ve known for a while, we’re just delaying the inevitable.
It’s the idea of moving on and of growing old that makes this decision hard on the Auburn Family. No matter who you are it makes you realize, if only for a moment, that everything changes and that our time here is unimaginably short. But that’s one of the driving factors of why people support their college so passionately. Every time your team wins or another Saturday rolls around it’s an opportunity for us to relive those experiences and to pretend that nothing has changed. Whether it’s going back to the University for game day, meeting at the bar with friends, joining that office pool and reminiscing about the year you won it all, that’s what makes being a fan so meaningful to all of us. It gives us the chance to reconnect, to relive, and if only for a moment, if only for the start of a game or the start of a season, to pause everything and imagine that nothing in life has changed.
I know that ideas are on the table as to what the next step to take with Toomer’s is and that if they’d had the perfect solution they would have already done it by now. If it was as simple and uprooting this tree and dropping in another fully grown 100 year old oak, I imagine that would have been done. But even then we’d know that it wasn’t ‘our’ Toomer’s. But like everything that surrounds this decision there isn’t a ‘right’ way to do this. There isn’t going to be a silver bullet cure that restores the corner to its full majesty anytime soon because that was stolen from us. But just like my family did, you make the hard choice and you move on. We got another dog eventually and we love her to death, but she’s not my first dog. She helps fill the hole that was left when he was gone but that hole will always be there. The wound may heal, but it’ll leave a scar. And whenever we win a game or drive through downtown Auburn we’ll look at that corner and remember it how it used to be. We’ll tell our kids or look at pictures of Toomer’s Corner in all its glory and smile about the good times. As we should, because THAT is how this majestic Oak should live on, in our hearts and minds, and not as a mangled tree trunk that only serves to remind us what we’ve all lost.