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Unidentified Man #1: I believe in the power of love...

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

On Mondays, we bring you our series This I Believe, which invites contributors to offer a brief statement of personal belief. Thousands of you have taken up that challenge, including retired elementary school teacher Ruth Kamps. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

Ruth Kamps of Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, read about our project in USA Weekend, our newspaper partner for This I Believe. The next morning, she rose at 5 AM with the essay, as she said, beating in her head and finished a draft in a matter of minutes. She wrote of her search for the meaning of spirituality, which she discovered in the experiences of her own life and right outside her window. Here is Ruth Kamps with her essay for This I Believe.

Ms. RUTH KAMPS (Elementary School Teacher): Sitting on our small deck, knitting and resting old legs, I am entertained by my spiritual sister, an equally old pine tree. She is very tall, probably 40 feet or so, and is at least as old as I am. She leans a bit; so do I. In her care are many birds that I watch with pleasure. They love and fight and nest in the tree. At Christmastime, pairs of cardinals decorate her limbs. She is still green, covering lots of old brown branches like my gray hair covering the black. We both soak in the sun and air and are trying our best to live lightly in our worlds.

One day in the not-too-distant future, she will fall and fertilize the Earth, as I will do. It's a consoling thought. We have children and grandchildren to give us the continuation of life, a bit of the divine in the tree and me. Yes, that's close to what I believe. My husband John and I moved to the country from a suburb and a traditional church nearly 40 years ago. Our property is in the Kettle Moraine of Wisconsin. It slopes sharply down to a stream that glows red with the setting sun.

When my parents came to visit after our move, my father said I would not be happy here. I was a city girl. He was right in the beginning. I was too busy, too poor, and very lonely. When my mother died, I was pregnant and needed her. I went to the church to be quiet and cry. The church was locked and the priest was standing outside. He knew me, but did not unlock the church. I don't know why, but it was the nail in the coffin of my traditional beliefs.

We had nine family-related deaths in one year. I learned to watch the red setting sun and was calmed, soothed and grateful, at least for a moment. I began to like digging in the dirt instead of cursing each weed. Cutting the evil buckthorn in the woods became a spiritual experience. I started to spend Sunday morning in the woods. Was I losing long-held beliefs or simply changing them? I found an answer while traveling. I was asked if I were religious, while standing at the rail of a cruise ship with a fellow traveler on the Yangtse River. I said I was not, but that I was spiritual. I was asked to explain. I talked about my sister tree.

A cab driver in Rome said that one must live in a place a long time to appreciate its beauty. Is 40 years enough? Taking frequent trips to the brashness of Chicago to see children and grandchildren always energized me. It still does, but I miss the woods. I have lost most of my traditional heaven and hell beliefs, finding them used conveniently by good people. There is a bit of the divine in the trees and the creatures who reside there. A little wren attacks a large red-bellied woodpecker, who is pecking too close to his nest. I am filled with admiration. The transition is complete. There are those who want to give my life more importance than the tree, but I don't believe them. They think there is a special place for me somewhere for eternity, but I don't believe them. I believe my tree and all other living things believe and feel in their particular living ways. I want to work on being as good a human as I am able, just as my tree does her job with grace and elegant treeness.

ALLISON: Ruth Kamps of Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, with her essay for This I Believe. If you hold a statement of personal belief within you and would like to share it, as Kamps did, we urge you to visit our Web site, npr.org, where you'll find information about submitting your writing, along with audio and text of all the essays in our series. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

INSKEEP: Next Monday, This I Believe continues on "All Things Considered" with an essay from Gloria Steinem.

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