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.
This morning my son said, “okay mom, I’m going to go by myself and be brave, because like you told me I could be brave.” This made me happy, because even though what he was doing was going in the dark room and turning the light on himself, he’s 3, and he really was scared. It made me happy that he is listening when I tell him he will be okay and he can be brave even though he’s scared. This is partly because I don’t ever remember actually being brave, just wanting to be. Because of that the post today explains how I spent the majority of my youth, and is an indicator of why I truly hope to be able to encourage strength and courage into Jack, especially in ordinary situations. The post is long, and I apologize, because it’s the majority of the chapter from the book.
I remember being a fearful child. I never, and I mean NEVER got into trouble at school, or anywhere else for that matter. I was always shy. I was scared to talk to people, even to make new friends. I was terribly scared of adults, because I thought they knew so much more about life than me. I assumed they’d be far too busy with important things to do than to actually care what I had to say or want to play with me. All of this is ironic, because the things I remember most happily in my childhood had to do with family vacations, games, and movie nights.
Nonetheless, I always felt less-than for some reason. The only times I remember ever not being afraid were those when I was singing, dancing, or writing. I did love to perform and make at least my parents watch. But singing and dancing were some of the only occasions I was willing to let others watch me, as well. And as you can imagine, I’m sure that all of the adults I performed for absolutely loved my renditions of “The Greatest Love of All” and “(Stop!) In the Name of Love.” At least I had good taste in music.
One of the biggest things that scared me as a child was the thought of eternity. I didn’t understand it. At 8, I remember something coming on TV that had this shot of the universe where the show or commercial talked about eternity, and I simply burst into tears in the middle of the den where we were all watching TV. I didn’t understand how anything could last forever or how if something did last forever there was really no beginning. It was something that truly made my brain hurt, and I had no clue how to handle it.
I remember my parents telling me it would be okay. They told me God loved me and because He did everything would be fine. I didn’t have to worry. But I don’t remember ever reconciling any of those feelings. That fear stayed with me. My desire to hang onto my family and my friends in this form was far too strong to allow any willingness to let go. I liked being alive. I knew how to understand a world with limits. It was a world without limits that baffled my mind, and created an uneasiness I couldn’t let go of.
About 3 years later, the most devastating event in my life to that point occurred. One of my family members was murdered. I remember during the period around this time, maybe the week or two before finding out, I could just feel a change in the air. I remember asking my mother if anyone in our family had ever been kidnapped or killed prior to my knowing anything was going on.
She told me no and asked what my brother had been telling me. He was 18 at the time, and I suppose had been informed that my uncle had been reported missing. I guess they decided it was time to tell me, and so they did. I remember seeing the news one evening. On it they showed that a set of remains, mostly bones, had been discovered in the woods a few towns away. At the end of the segment they showed a picture of my uncle and noted that he was still missing. I remember looking at my mother in her chair; we were the only two in the room. She started to cry.
To that point, I couldn’t ever recall seeing her do that. I knew something bad was going on. It didn’t take long for them to confirm the body was his. I remember fear immediately enveloping all of the areas it hadn’t previously.
As with any time there is a death, the fragility of life made its presence well known in my head. However, when the event that takes place is something as careless, as thoughtless, as disgusting, as completely unnecessary as these senseless acts are, the knowledge that the end of our journey may be up to someone else is the most unsettling part.
It does not matter what I do, if someone stands in front of me with a gun, he has a very easy means to stop my heart from beating. If someone is set on stopping me today, in the end, he has the capability to do so. And each person has the means to do so simply by virtue of being here. Every single one of us here has the capacity to do something amazing and something unspeakable. We all live in this paradox of extremes.
I didn’t know how to deal with that, so instead of talking to someone about it or finding some way to get help which can be difficult at 11, I chose to close off. I never went anywhere, or very rarely did. I had very few friends, although part of that can be blamed on the treacherousness that is middle school. I lost a way of understanding how a God that I was told loved me, therefore he’d protect me, wouldn’t protect my family. It seemed cruel. I was scared of life, mostly because I was scared of death. And I was scared of the power that other people had in my life.
When we stand on the edge of that platform looking through that barely veiled line that distinguishes between life and death, the presence of the ultimate extremes – love and fear – reveal themselves. They call out loudly and pull at us by what seems like a tangible force. And the tool that becomes the deciding factor on which side we’re really going to lean toward is self-worth. As I said before, even as a child, I always leaned toward the side of fear.
I don’t know what happened that I stopped believing I could be anything. I don’t know why I stopped believing I was worthy. Maybe it really did have something to do with my inability to comprehend the universe or the God I was praying to. But as I stood there to choose, I chose fear. And from that point forward, fear would lead my life.
Ironically, a good portion of what happens to us is likely due to our self-fulfilling prophecy trait. I wanted to feel bad, and in turn I did. Some of my friends were depressed, and I wanted to be too, so I chose it. I spent a lot of time feeling bad about feeling bad, which just made me feel worse. It’s a spiraling effect. Because, if I know that feeling bad is unnecessary, if I were really a good person, if I were really worthy of anything, then I’d go ahead and do something to change it, right? I was afraid, and I used it perfectly. It manifested itself through everything. I never had boyfriends. I wasn’t a good friend. I stopped trying in school, although I was competitive enough to make sure I did better than my siblings.
Most of the time, I just felt sad because my life wasn’t different. I never considered doing anything to change it. I sat happily in my misery, and never pursued anything that was a stretch. Who wants that disappointment? And I stayed just as I was the day before every single day. I didn’t get into trouble, but I didn’t do much of anything worth doing either. I simply was. And that was all.
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?