A few years ago I wrote the poem “Each year the tree” (see below) and as *we re-visit the design of the weeks that I will co-facilitate in June and July at Modern Elder Academy, the tree metaphor has been front of mind for me once again.
Re-reading the poem, I noticed that I had placed the emphasis on the tree as giver; giver of leaves, shade, blossoms, seeds and fruits. In contrast, I now find myself focused on the tree as taker; on what is below ground rather than what is above.
Without roots, the tree is nothing. Without taking, a tree cannot give.
I don’t think that I’m alone in having consciously or unconsciously neglected my roots for much of my life. I overlooked or even rejected my ancestry and inherited values in favour of creating a version of me that was as far as I could get from previous generations of my family. I grew up in the 1950s and 60s in a family where equality and respect for others were everything, where deeds were above words and craft was respected more than cash, and then rebelliously stumbled into a successful career in advertising in the 70s and 80s, where the car I drove and the designer clothes I wore defined me.
It took a very long time and not a little psychological trauma for me to learn that, along with my ambitious and successful uprooting of myself, I had sacrificed my source of energy and power. When I appeared to the outside world to be at my most dynamic and powerful – dutifully conforming to the business success stereotype and giving in to society’s expectations – I was in fact rootless and dying.
And so now, at last, I am taking time to nourish my roots, and get back in touch with that which truly inspires and ignites me. I’m finally letting the real me back in; that creative, joyful, fierce yet vulnerable and compassionate shero, who is securely rooted in the knowledge that her way has value. The above ground part of “tree-me”, the part that others see, still reaches for the sky, and cannot help but provide sustenance and shelter, but from a much healthier, deeply rooted place.
This feels like real liberation. Better for me. Better for others.
(*Gratitude to my colleague Paul Loper and the faculty and comadres/compadres that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting at MEA for illuminating yet another path for me!)
(Turning the Tables is one example of which “real me” is extremely proud!)
Each Year the Tree
Each year the tree gives blossom’s brightness to burst winter’s grey bubble.
Fierce and piercing beauty, soon scattered in the damp, dappled grass.
Each year the tree gives spinning seeds, whose helicopter journey to the ground
Has, since childhood, held me spellbound.
Each year the tree replaces flowers with fruits, which bend its branches
But do not break them; and even if they do, new shoots burst forth.
Each year the tree gives footholds in its cracked and furrowed bark to scampering squirrels
Gathering autumn’s bounty for winter’s larder.
Each year the tree gives shade in summer and a leafy palate
of infinite, imperceptibly changing colours to remind me of time’s passing.
Each year the tree lets fall crisp leaves. The children kick and fall and throw.
The dogs delight. The gardener rakes and rakes and rakes.
Each year the tree, in silence and unseen, grows larger, puts down deeper roots
Adds inner rings of wisdom, becomes part of earth, of you, of me.