While outside playing with Jack yesterday I took a picture of an oak tree. We have lots of water oaks along the coastline in Mississippi and some of them have grown to huge sizes. They’ve survived for centuries, storm after storm, year after year. And I started to think about how that happens.
People mention building your roots a lot. In order for a tree to grow it has to anchor itself in first. But I think sometimes what we overlook is just how root systems work in trees. They grow down to form an anchor, and then they spread themselves out. They branch out in all directions creating the right amount of support for the tree itself to branch out in any direction it needs to. As we grow in life, we can’t just grow in one direction. We are multifaceted and complex. We have multiple talents, multiple needs, multiple areas we are capable of sharing in, of growing in. We have to make sure that we are tending to all the different areas in our life in order to grow as high as we can grow.
When a tree gets injured on one side, those branches can start to whither and die. The whole tree can end up weakened, because it’s no longer in balance. So the tree starts to regrow that branch whenever possible. New life will emerge from those areas that we’ve left untended, even when they were areas that were hurt. Whether it’s because we ignore those areas simply because we have so many things we need to focus on, or if the areas are damaged from things that have happened in the past, the chance for regrowth exists. And not only does it exist, it is necessary for us to find our balance again. For us to thrive again. We have to make ourselves as strong as possible in order to weather the storms in life, and to do that we have to pay attention to all of our branches.
Sometimes when we let things constantly eat away at one part of our life, it finds its way into the other areas as well. Inevitably we end up unhappy, unfulfilled, and unsatisfied. We get lost. We don’t know what’s wrong because so many areas are now at risk, and finding the source of the problem is hard. It’s easy for poison to find its way in when we can’t find the wound to close it. So it’s extremely important to begin paying attention, looking at ourselves and really realizing what needs to be done to help us feel whole again. They are not voids that can be filled by others. They are things that exist within us.
We have the chance to do great things and be great people in even the smallest of ways every day. We have the chance to grow ourselves with every sunrise and strengthen our roots with every sunset. Every branch we extend outward has the chance to touch someone. To help create fresh air and breathe new life, without do anything other than functioning at its best. By weathering the storms we have the chance to help someone else do the same. We just have to grow ourselves in all the different directions we can. We have to allow ourselves to be human, to be people. To have faults and weaknesses, but not let them overcome us, because we all have many ways to grow.
Today I went to an art exhibit at the library by my old house. It’s the house I grew up in, and my favorite one that I’ve lived in. I got the chance to bring my son and my nephew over to see the house. We didn’t go inside… the house is currently in the middle of a decision between saving it or tearing it down. There’s a large crack up the back of the house. The windows are broken in a few places, and the gate is gone. But it still looked like home. Which is interesting.
Going back my siblings and I noted how much smaller things looked. I remember the yard looked so big when I was little and the “hill” seemed much more like a hill as a child rather than the slight incline that it apparently is. Who knew!? I will continue to describe it as a hill when I tell people stories, because it’s a lot more interesting to say that my brother sent me down the hill on the skateboard and luckily I fell off before landing in the road into oncoming traffic, but now I have these ugly scars. My brother sent me down a slight incline does not have the same effect.
But as I was noticing how much smaller and conquerable everything seemed, I realized that this is the case with many, many things. In retrospect our problems that seemed huge and insurmountable in the end were overcome. And looking back, it seems a lot smaller a lot of times. The crushes that I had in school, the people who I had to deal with. The decisions I’ve had to make about careers and college and jobs. At the time everything seems so hard, but when I look back, though I still realize the scenery, it doesn’t seem quite so large.
It’s funny the way things like that work. When the pressure is on, the picture gets deluded. The picture skews because there is so much riding on it. And it’s true that there are certainly decisions that warrant the importance that we place on them. We need to care about the things we spend our time doing. But, we also need to remember that there will be a point in time where we look back and see that the problems we are facing have been conquered. The stress wasn’t quite so necessary. The picture is smaller than it seems. There is an answer, and time will go on. We move. We grow. We learn. And sometimes we get to see the true big picture.
After attending the wedding last night and thinking a lot about relationships and love in general this weekend, I’m going to share a little bit of what my failed attempt at love looked like in contrast to what love might actually be. If any of you know better, feel free to chime in, as I’m extremely open to learning these days 🙂
There was a point in our “relationship” (I refer to it this way, because it really never was one) towards the beginning where I remember thinking to myself, “I’d give up everything if we could just be together.” And I meant it. I would let go of every dream, everything I wanted to do, all of the places I wanted to go, if we could just work. If we could be together, and I could settle and teach or something like that, and he could be whatever he wanted, and I’d just love him. That’d be all I needed. He’d be all I needed, because we’d be together. I’d have what I always wanted. Someone who let me love him, who I knew was capable of loving me, and one day I might coax him into actually doing so.
I could have the struggle of love that they talked about. I could have the fight. I could stick through it all. I could withstand it all. I could give up my life and change his. I could lose myself and live just for him, and one day he’d be grateful and realize and love me back. But that’s a very dangerous thing to want. It’s funny, because I think the idea comes from fairytales and romance, but mixed with the basic struggles of life. There’s always a grand gesture where someone is willing to give up everything to stay with the other.
But the thing I think that gets overlooked is that the other person never lets that happen. Whether they end up together or are forced to let go, the thing that makes what appears before us love, is that it forces the person to do the right thing. The purpose is to build one another up. It is to see one another reach their potential. When we give up on ourselves and our dreams, we lose our purpose.
We have so many facets to our being that need attention and care. When we begin to neglect those essential seeds, those things that make us who we are, the ones that grow us, we begin to wither on our branches. We damage our ability to create and share as our threshold begins to shrink. We can’t care for others, because we aren’t caring for ourselves. Our purpose fails to be fulfilled, and we become less fulfilling to others. We are not doing our part. We are not sharing our heart as it was meant to be shared.
We can’t give up everything for a relationship. That is not what love is about. It is about nurturing and growing one another mutually. Compromise, yes. Sacrifice, yes. But all in kind. Not one-sided. And always with the best interest of both people in mind. If the struggle serves only to bring one or both of us down, then the struggle is simply for the sake of struggle.
There is no capacity for growth when there is no foundation to grow from. Instead, the system collapses upon itself, and digging our way out of such a mess rarely leaves a relationship intact, and even less frequently does it leave a relationship well-off. An insight that was impossible for me without deep reflection
I’m sort of cheating today. I am in a wedding today, and I was at the rehearsal all last night, so I’m sharing my thoughts on love today, but from something I had previously written. It’s relevant, though I’m not talking about a wedding or a relationship in that sense. I’ve only had bad relationships, so that wouldn’t work too well right here. But I am sharing a story that describes what it was like for me to first encounter what unconditional love really meant. I hope you’ll enjoy it. And I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend, thus far!! Please share any thoughts you have on the topic!
I remember when I was a child that I always believed in unconditional love. I believed it existed. I believed it was something we all needed to know. I believed it was powerful. And I believed it was natural. I’m not sure where those ideas came from. I’d mostly call my upbringing one that was somewhat skeptical on the subject. And I remember thinking that there was something different about the way I thought about things compared to the people around me.
Even though I was fearful, I was always also hopeful. Down inside me, I just knew there was something great awaiting my life. I never knew what that could be, although at the time I’m sure I was hoping I’d be a singer. I just knew there was possibility. The older we get the more practical we tend to become. And after having fear wipe away the majority of my notions about me doing anything great with my life, I gave up on the idea that love could exist without problems, mainly jealousy. To that time, I had never known a friendship or any relationship really where there wasn’t some form of disappointment or some form of jealousy involved.
When I turned 16 all of this changed. Well, maybe not all, but a major turning point did appear. My first nephew was born. When I found out that I was going to be an aunt I was so excited. I couldn’t wait. I was just thrilled. I loved kids. I was always good with them. My patience is at its best with children (at least until they become teenagers!) And to have a baby around after being the youngest child gave me the chance I never had before. I always wanted to have someone I could teach. I never had anything to teach my siblings. They were both older than me, and we were all always right. You couldn’t tell any of us anything. My main goal was simply to be better than them when it came to academics. Maybe that’s why I’m still in school. I should probably talk to someone about that. But, again I digress.
My nephew was born, and my love that I had so wanted to share with someone finally had a place. My nephew was a perfect little baby, and the day he came home from the hospital I got to spend time alone with him. I sang him Winnie-the-Pooh and hoped he didn’t cry, because I had never fixed a bottle before and wasn’t sure I could follow the instructions without burning the bottle on the stove. It was terrifying and wonderful all at once.
But I knew as I sat there with him that night that there was nothing that he could do that could possibly shake my love for him. And I wasn’t jealous. I wasn’t disappointed. I was just filled with love. I wanted great things for him. I wanted to do everything I could to help him be his best. I was excited to know him and to help him with his future. I wanted to take care of him, and I wanted him to be able to function on his own. I wanted everyone to love him. I was terribly upset at the thought that someone might ever be mean to him. I wanted to keep him safe and have him know only love, and even now sometimes I still think it’s unfortunate that life doesn’t work that way. But he was the first person who I was allowed to care for in such a way, and his presence along with my other nephews’ has helped guide me to the path I want and need to be on today.
Most of the time I have a tendency to feel like it’s me against the world. I don’t think this is abnormal. Many of us feel like it’s hard to find good help in the process of getting to where we want to go. But there were times when I really feel like I’m stuck inside this bubble or there is a force field surrounding me and I can’t push through it to get to where anyone can hear me. I’m trying to say what I need or searching for someone to talk to, but I can’t seem to find a way to break through. When I started thinking about this more the other night, I started to wonder why it was that I felt so disconnected sometimes.
In life we cannot make it on our own. We are dependent upon someone else for survival. I think a lot of times this sort of conflicts with the idea that we are born alone, we live our own individual lives, and we die alone. We are both extremely connected and extremely disconnected all at once. But if we survive past infancy, it’s because someone else allowed for it. If we survive childhood there had to be someone around to help, even if it wasn’t our parents. We learn to speak and to act from others. We depend on someone for food and water… maybe farmers could survive on their own, but most of us these days couldn’t survive without the actions of someone else. We need one another. We need others to care about our well-being on a very real level simply for our physical survival. So when we consider our social needs, maybe they stem from our survival needs, but they are also existent on a very real level.
We need others to care about us. If no one cares, it’s nearly impossible to survive. If we don’t allow others to care, it’s nearly impossible for us to survive. This two-way street that exists is very important. We have to give in order to get, but we have to be open in order to receive. If we don’t allow others in, if we don’t acknowledge how much our lives are impacted by the lives of those around us (and even those not near to us in any way) then we make this life much harder than it needs to be. And it gets really hard at times, because it is easy to feel like you are the only one who honestly cares about you. But a lot of the time, the issue can be that others don’t know how to help you. You have to say what you need. If people still don’t respond, then we probably need to find new people to surround ourselves with, because life is too hard to get anywhere worth going on our own. I think learning to live in this sort of paradox has been one of the more difficult things to sort out or “overcome.” I’ve always felt different. And as I get older, though I very much like who I am, I still find it hard sometimes to figure out how to know what I need from others and what I need to do on my own. My son very freely seeks out others. I am much more introverted than he appears to be. I admire his willingness to interact with others and ask for help. He’s open to others, and this is a skill it has taken me a long time to acquire. So today my goal is to keep up my meditation, which really has been nice these past few days, to find a good song, and to be attentive to (make a list and reflect upon) all the different people it takes for me to survive each day. Despite the stress of feeling like I have to write, these past few days I have really felt more rejuvenated, and that makes me feel like I’ve made a good decision. What are your goals for today?
There are 31 days this month to celebrate “Mental Health” May. Today is day 2.It’s fascinating how much more difficult it is for me to write when I feel like I have to do it. I have actually written very little in about a year and a half anyway. But, one of the reasons I started doing this was so that I could try to renew my ability to write, and hopefully it would have the cathartic effect it used to. I think part of my problem coming back to writing is that I always used to write in the dark. If we were writing in school, I would get under a table so that I could have my own personal, protected space so I could write. At home I would turn the light to my bedroom off and use a lamp or flashlight so that I could write without being interrupted. I developed a feeling of safety when writing in the dark. It’s as though it’s just me and my paper. Or in this case my computer. But once I turned the lights off tonight, I do feel that protection again, which I hope will allow me to write with more ease and creativity than I’ve felt over the past year or so.
I wanted to make sure with this blog that there was a purpose. I don’t want to be wasting anyone’s time. I was to put forth the effort that it deserves for both myself and anyone who may come across it. Life’s too short. It’s too short to waste on a bad book, on a bad day,on a bad relationship, on a bad job. There’s too much to do. Too many chances. Even though most we must make ourselves. If we have to put in effort and time it needs to be in the things that are worth it. The things we believe in.
So today what I believe in is hope. I know that when faith, hope, and love were left, love was picked as the greatest, but I think it’s hard to find love if you don’t have hope. In fact, it’s hard to do more than merely survive if we don’t have hope. Pandora had a box (or maybe a jar), and all of the riches were pulled from it except one. And what was left in the box was hope. Hope is something completely intangible. It’s something completely non-scientific in nature. It’s hard to measure. It’s hard to assess. Someone in a lab can never truly know whether or not a person had hope or just how much the person being studied really had. We cannot measure it, even in our box, so in the world of science it can quickly be cast aside. But on a daily basis, hope saves lives. Hope inspires one to help another. Hope motivates one to pursue a dream or follow his passion. Hope gives those without a chance a hand to fight with. Homer wrote, “There is a strength in the union even of very sorry men.” He may have been speaking of physical weakness, but we all have our own areas where we falter. When we unite together, we do so in hope. Perhaps it’s out of necessity. Perhaps it out of desire. But no matter what, as we unite in hope a strength appears and it is stronger than it was when we were on our own. Hope has the power to transform the intangible fight into the tangible victory. Hope gives us the courage to believe. And that makes its immeasurable existence invaluable. Today my goal is to find someone who needs hope in one area or another (no matter how big or small) and to hope with them. We all need someone on our side. Do you have anyone who needs hope shared their way? Are there things you didn’t realize you were hoping for? An invisible world come to life? Who knows what you’ll find. 🙂