force of nature

There is an age-old metaphor – a tree as life. It is so because it works well. I was struck last week by images of devastation made by hurricane Ian as it churned across Florida. Images of destruction, man-made structures strewn across the ground as the palm trees waved goodbye to the storm, their fronds high in the air above. How do they survive? What makes the slender palm tree accept nature’s temper tantrum with equanimity while the solidly built structures below are reduced to rubble? I’m sure there are scientific explanations. I am not a scientist, nor do I especially enjoy scientific explanations. I prefer metaphor to explain the mysteries of life.

The palm tree is in its native habitat. It belongs. It is rooted. Yes, there will be casualties but for the most part the palm withstands storms. Just as people when they are rooted will be able to withstand the vagaries that life offers. A person’s roots are not in the soil or even place based. A person’s roots are in family, in the childhood that nourishes and solidifies his or her character.

Everyone is born with their own set of talents. How those abilities are nourished, how that character is encouraged comes at the beginning of life, the roots. How is the child treated? What does the child learn about being human? Babies are not blank slates. They come with a host of built-in sensors, instruments. Those instruments are fine-tuned to each person’s unique orchestration. They pick up cues from their environment about how to act and react. They interpret the cues according to their sensibilities. That is why two, three, or even eleven children of the same parents will interact with the world entirely differently.

If given stability, a child’s roots will go deep, grow strong. The stability is not of place, it is heart and soul based. A child rooted in emotional security, can move from place to place, in circumstances good or ill, and still be able to grow. They will bend with life’s challenges but stay rooted in their humanity. There are so many stories of people raised in difficult conditions who overcame obstacles to flourish and succeed because they acquired, in the beginning, a core strength that anchored, rooted, them.

It’s not all la-ti-da – an easy equation. Humans are by nature inquisitive. As they mature, they usually experiment with alternatives. That is the basis of human migration. Many seek to define themselves by pulling away from the familiar. Everyone has their own path to trod. There are studies that indicate character is fully formed by age eight. An established character prevails even through the storms of life. Of course, there are always the lost ones. Just as you see uprooted palm trees here and there, some people, even if rooted well, can develop addictions, disease, or psychosis, a myriad of things that dislodge their roots. They may find ways to endure but the disturbance will be manifested in their interactions with life forevermore. It is the responsibility of adults to provide children with stable roots for their best chance to withstand life’s tempests.