Saturday, July 25, 2009

Atrophy of Roots

On our first anniversary, CPod and I graduated from BYU. We spent that week taking finals and packing up all of our earthly belongings, and the morning after graduation, we headed out to Memphis, TN where CPod would embark of the next stage of his education.

We rented a little apartment in Midtown close to the school. We only had one car, and once I had a job, I would drop CPod off for class, drive out to the other end of town for work, then pick him back up after I finished working, or at 11PM if he was closing the library.

Here's what they don't tell you about Memphis: it's patchy, in a strange way. You can go from well-maintained 100-year-old estates a city block in size to housing projects to slums to buildings with signs that announce "Drug dealers evicted here" by just crossing over to the other side of the street. Once you know the safest route through to your destination, you don't look for shortcuts because you're never sure what kind of area you will encounter on the way.

Our apartment complex was safe enough. After all, it was surrounded by a chain link fence topped with three feet of razor wire, and an armed guard manned the entrance at all times. It felt like a prison compound, and the cockroaches didn't do much to dispel my gloom whenever I thought about our living situation. You just never get used to pouring bleach down the drain before you take a shower. You can try. You can pretend. But you will never like it.

I had a good job -- a great job, really. And CPod had his work study job at the library (which I still hold single-handedly responsible for any honors he received at graduation) as well as another job that accommodated his limited student schedule. Housing is cheap in Memphis, and after crunching some numbers, we decided to look for a house to buy. If we played our cards right, we could end up spending less on a house note than we were on rent. For cockroaches.

We searched, and found a great little house. And it had a tree in the front yard. I was sold. It was one of the only trees on the street, and it was lovely: tall, and broad, and it provided shade to the little flower garden by the front porch. I had been longing to get my hands in some soil, and it looked like I would have the opportunity.

I loved that tree. I fertilized it, and pruned it, and took great care to keep it healthy. In return, it ensured lush grass and blooming flowers in my little planter. It's H.O.T. in Memphis -- the kind of sticky, humid heat where you just become complacent in your discomfort, when your clothes always make you feel like you are encased in hot dog skins, when your sunglasses fog up between the front door and your car even if it is only 7:30 in the morning.

The tree was a Bradford pear. Do you have one? You should get rid of it. They're useless.

One early Sunday morning, we were experiencing one of those Memphis storms, with a lot of wind. (It's the only place I've ever lived with tornado warning sirens. Scary.) We heard an awful crack, and when we checked the front yard, our beloved tree had split down the middle and half had fallen on our neighbor's new truck. Nice.

Turns out, Bradford pear trees are the antithesis of delayed gratification. You plant one, and just a few short years later, voila! You have a big, beautiful shade tree. But all of that growth you can see comes at an extreme sacrifice: very little growth under ground. The Bradford pear expends all of its energy branching out above the ground without building the necessary support system underneath, and when a little wind comes along, it doesn't have the strength it needs to stand strong through the storm.

It only took a few days for my flowers to die. You see, they relied on the shade of the pear tree to protect them from the brutal Memphis sun. And when the tree was no longer there to shelter their delicate blossoms, they did not have the resources they needed to survive in their environment.

Lately, I've been feeling pretty drained. I've had a few strong contractions that have worried me a bit, but I've taken it as a cue that I need to slow down. (Don't worry, my doctor is in the loop. I'm talking, like, 5 contractions. Total. Over the course of a week.) I mean, I'm supposed to have 14 more weeks of this! I've figured out (duh) that I don't eat enough, I don't drink enough water, I don't sleep enough, and I don't rest enough. And I don't take care of my spiritual roots enough, either.

I'm determined not to be that Bradford pear tree, because my responsibility to shelter my family is one I take very seriously. But taking it seriously means, first, strengthening my roots: caring for myself physically, and paying attention when my body tells me I need to take it easy; partaking of the spiritual sustenance that comes only through the activities of personal discipleship and maintaining a relationship with my Savior; saying "no" to outside activities and additional stressers when it's time to slow down.

How many of us look great to the outside world, but are really withering inside because we have neglected our roots? I would wager there's more of us out there with atrophied roots trying to maintain the facade of well-being than we would imagine . . . like, maybe, all of us, to a degree.

We are responsible for so many things -- as my mom used to say, semi-jokingly, when I was growing up, "If there's a war in the middle east, somehow I'm responsible." But the thing we are responsible for first and foremost is our own well-being. My ability to provide shelter, to bless others with my talents, to care for those both in my own family and out of it is directly related to how much care I have been taking to ensure my own physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. And yet. It's those very actions that demonstrate care for others that I choose to do instead of first working in my own vineyard.

I will not be that Bradford pear tree. The winds come every day, and I pray that my roots will be strong enough to support me, to withstand the buffeting that, certainly, will not lessen before my job is through.


  1. I love this imagery. There was a huge storm in Seattle on the first Innauguration Day for Pres. Clinton, and hundreds of huge, old-growth trees went down. With the high water table, the roots had no reason to dig very deep, and when the wind hit, they couldn't hold on.

    Lots to learn from that, isn't there!

  2. Hope you get the rest, water, food, spiritual rest and everything you need so the next 14 weeks can be good ones for you and your baby (and family).

    I'll say a prayer for you!


  3. I've always had an affinity for live oaks, myself. My Southern roots showing again, I guess. I think right now the only botanical metaphor that I could come up with for myself would be a cactus.

    I need to get more sleep.

  4. What you didn't mention is that bradford pears stink, too. :)

    I love this analogy. And beautiful writing, too. :)

    We didn't talk today, and I feel like my arm fell off.

  5. I just wanted to stop by and tell you how much I appreciate your insights. I have stalked for a while. I had a bradford pear growing up and I LOVED climbing in it. I drove past my childhood home years later and it was gone. I always wondered why they current owners would remove it! Maybe it crushed the neighbors car? Wait, did you move into my old house?...oh, no Tennessee not Utah phew!

  6. The Raleigh-Durham area had a massive ice storm in December of (I think) 2004. Because we'd had a late fall many of the leaves were still on the trees, which was a terrible situation to be in before an ice storm. The trees simply could not handle the weight of all of those iced leaves, and many of them lost huge branches. The bradford pears (which I love--great shape, great spring, great fall) were hit particularly hard. I've always wondered what it is about them that makes it so that a whole section of the tree can be just ripped away--I wonder if the wood is unusually soft? I have always been sure that there is a gospel analogy in there somewhere...

    Hang in there, drink lots of water, keep the bladder empty, etc. Micro-preemies aren't so much fun...

  7. oooh, I love this post! Thanks for pointing my attention here. I love the roots +shelter analogy. Great stuff.

  8. Hi! I loved your clothes like hot dog skins simile. Perfect and funny.

  9. Wow. Great analogy. Of course, it's kind-of the opposite of my last post.

    Hmmm. . .maybe I'll feel guilty now. . .for a minute or two anyway.

  10. Great metaphor. Beautiful post. Your early days in Memphis remind me so much of our early days in Los Angeles. L.A. is not as hot and humid, but that city can eat you alive if you let it!

    I love the longing for deeper roots. We all need that.


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