Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all
As a child, this lullaby is a sweet serenade by a mother or father. It’s a caring word spoken over a loved infant or “big kid” before they go to sleep. It’s the promise that no matter what monsters may be creeping in the shadows, a protector is right down the hall ready with a flashlight and a hug. These sweet words are a musical blanket to wrap up in and hold onto until morning.
Recently a friend spoke about his struggles with God using a phrase that reminded me of this song: “I feel like I’m falling. With branch after branch hitting me or breaking on the way down. Then one finally is strong enough to hold. That’s why I’m still alive.”
After he shared, I don’t remember what else was said for the next few minutes. Instead I thought about the imagery of their experience and what the song above would feel like.
An icy wind whistles through the forest. Leaves scatter in its wake and furry creatures huddle tighter into their caves or holes. Fish swimming in the brook might notice a quick ripple above them, but then return to hunting for bugs amid the rocks.
A baby stares at the stars overhead. How he got up so high in that tree, no one knows. The boughs can barely hold his cradle, let alone the weight of another person. But there he rocks and coos and blinks in the light of a million stars.
The wind reaches the child’s tall tree, which had been protected in the middle of the woods. Breezy fingers lace up among the branches higher and higher, aiming for those same stars above. Finally one breaks through, right beside the cradle, forcing it to lean farther than ever before. Like a rope that has reached its limit, the branch breaks and falls to the earth.
The cradle hands in the air for a moment. Its only microseconds but feels like eternity for the infant inside and for any creature watching from the ground. Babies are adorable beings, but cannot speak or walk, they cannot climb a tree or fly to safety, and they cannot stop time or restore the branch to its place. So only gravity has power over what happens next.
Down the cradle falls, breaking branches or skimming past leaves along the way. A cascade of bark starts to cover the earth below, leading a nearby frog to look up in curiosity. The forest is never completely silent, but this much noise is unusual.
All of this is happening with seconds on the clock, with the baby having no way to know how much time has passed. All he knows is the bright stars are farther away, loud scratches echo around his head, and the wind continues to whistle on all sides. He doesn’t realize the danger of the ground but starts to cry at the darkness and new cruel sounds.
Feet from the ground, the infant boy is caught by a branch stronger than all the others. It bent under the weight of the cradle and all of the branches that fell before, but it did not break. Broken twigs and sticks lay around the trunk of this new tree, which holds firm and rocks the child the child to sleep. He is safe and it is quiet once again.
When my mom sang this song to me as a child, I never wondered about its meaning. It’s a sweet tune and somehow I knew that the baby was safe, even if I didn’t know how. Something or someone must have caught it before harm occurred.
For my friend in pain, I have to be honest and I don’t know how to help him as well as I wish. I hear his pain, know parts of his story, and believe that there is still hope in his darkness. The believer in me wants to say that God is that branch that continues to hold strong, and that his community will be there to add more branches and build him up again. How that hope becomes reality is a much more complicated story than a baby in a tree.
It really is an odd song when you think about it.