Once I was a tree. A young tree in a shady grove. My leaves were soft, bark crisp, and I swayed in the gentle breeze. People would walk by me and say “Look at that beautiful tree. It will grow tall and strong. Nothing will ever knock it over.”
I was so proud! Among the many ancient in the forest; I stood out. I grew and grew. Never once did I stop to think. Never once did I stop to question it. I wanted to be as tall as possible so I could get praised. I wanted to be what I was seen to be.
Seasons changed. A drought took hold but the groove of trees stood strong. Their roots were entangled and deep and though one didn't reach the water, they shared each other's strength. I was suddenly alone. Though I stretched as long as I was, my roots never got enough, and slowly, my leaves started to wither. I was drying out; clueless about how I could stop. I didn't know the words, the simple questions, that could have saved me.
A fire swept over us. The others, with thick bark and crowns high, withstood the flames. They showed off their scars and burns proudly, adapted to the harsh environment and thriving in it. Me, I crumbled.
My last leaves browned and curled. My branches were left as scorched sticks and in the ground, my roots faltered. When the fire died out I was nothing but a bare trunk, stripped of my bark and protection. My roots were exposed and weak.
I should have stopped. I should have rested. Regained my strength and caught my breath, but I kept trying to grow. I had been beautiful once! Nothing was supposed to knock me over. I didn't care for my weakened roots or rotten core. I forgot what had once made me strong and just wanted to grow back to what I thought I was: A tall tree.
The flood was what killed me.
My roots cracked and I fell into the rush of water. With nothing to hold on to, no strength in my core or my branches, the water consumed me wholly. It drowned me. For so long, I had lacked water, now I couldn’t escape it.
For a long time, I was at the mercy of the currents. I followed wherever they took me. I was tossed between high waves and the deepest abyss.
Sometimes the water calmed enough for me to resurface and breathe, but always the storm picked up again, throwing the ocean into a tantrum of great forces.
One day, I washed up on a shore. I was close to nothing. My branches had broken off and my trunk splintered, but within the broken wood, a tiny acorn was left unscathed. The last little part of me refusing to give up.
A bird picked me up and carried me away from the salty shores. We flew and flew. Over mountains and forest, across borders and seas. I didn't know where it was taking me, and I was terrified of the unknown when it suddenly dropped me. I landed in a forest and was surrounded by trees of every size and shape, old and young, bent, crooked, straight, and smooth. Some held scars of fires and floods, others were pristine, but none looked alike and no one looked like me.
I lay in the cool dirt, watching them and wishing I could grow tall like them. Wishing, that though none of us were the same, I'd still fit in.
A gentle spring rain covered me with dew. Rays of sun peeked down from the leafy canopy, and slowly, I broke my protective shell and placed a tentative root beneath me.
Finally, I grew a tiny sprout.
I grow slowly now. If I move too fast, my new leaves will be too frail and the harsh winter's frost will eat them. So I'm slow. I'm taking my time.
I don't know what I'm growing to be. Perhaps I'm not a tree. Perhaps I was never a tree. Perhaps I'm wildflower, or a weed, or a stubborn knot of grass refusing to die. I don't know, but I keep pushing my roots down. I expand them, lick up frail sunbeams, and give myself strength.
Whenever I find a root I try to embrace it, touch it, and listen to it. If it allows me, I wrap myself around it, holding tight like in a pinky-swear; barely touching yet firmly gripping in a promise to stay together.
When a flood rush over us, we hold each other to withstand the flow. If one is stuck in the shade, we share our little bits of sunshine. We've intertwined our roots, swaying together in the mighty storms. We've created a network of strength in which we all continue to grow. Together.
So I don't know if I'll grow up to be a tree or a flower or something else. I don't know how many more branches I'll break, or how many more floods, rainstorms, or fires I must endure. But as I slowly gain strength, I know my roots will hold me down.
Next time, even if I crumble, I won't fall.