More than likely, everyone has experienced a broken romance, the abandonment of a dream or, simply, the premature loss of something or someone very important to him or her. When we do, our contemporaries most often encourage us to let it go, to put it behind us, or to seek closure in one way or another. In other words: Get over it!!! But yet, we don’t. All sorts of “What if’s” and “If only’s” flood our minds and imaginations, sometimes overcoming us with grief, other times preventing us from moving forward in our own lives. I know I’ve had my share of such experiences. In my senior year alone, in addition to failing to become drill team captain and president of the service club, I was also left watching my high school crush pine away for the most popular cheer leader in school.
And later, other losses emerged, one in particular affecting me for much, much too long. After earning my M.A. back in ’84, I had dreams of pursuing a PhD, preferably in London, England, since I knew a professor who, with his ties, could promote my application. But then a funny thing happened: I fell in love with a sailor from KY and wound up, not only marrying him 18 months later, but also beginning a family almost immediately. Now don’t get me wrong! I regret none of those choices at all. My love for my husband still runs deep, and I cherish my relationships with my now-grown children. But, in the course of living out those decisions, I came to a point where I quit teaching at the local university not long after our second child was born, and put aside those PhD goals, with the keen awareness that, probably, I would never be able to pursue them at all. Even though I understood why those were good decisions for the health of my marital relationship and family, I ached. How much I had longed to pursue a challenge that would test my intellect and introduce me to a world far beyond the working class one in which I was raised. That ache, if I’m honest, brought a bitterness to my heart that I tried my best to ignore. In spite of all the joy I felt through my husband and family, I was rather envious of others who obtained what I hadn’t. The shadow of that dream’s loss wasn’t easy to escape.
But then, one day, as I was sitting upon the roots of Grandmother Tree, I looked up at the huge broken branch that extended above me. In the picture, you may be able to see the blackened, jagged edges of the break, one that looked painful, even for a tree. That branch’s size also amazed me since it was so much larger than many of the trunks of nearby trees. As I reflected on those attributes, I recalled some simple biology I’d learned years ago regarding trees and their branches. Now I’m probably simplifying the concept, but I thought I’d been told that the branches and their leaves require a certain amount of a tree’s energy to be sustained. Therefore, if there are many branches, especially at lower levels, then a tree’s height would be limited. Now one thing that wasn’t limited on Grandmother Tree was her height! She towered above all others, reaching so high up and with such an incredible span that being under her was akin to being in the most magnificent of cathedrals. And then it dawned on me, possibly, her height was possible only because that branch, and others at the same level, were broken. Maybe, if that painful break had never occurred, Grandmother Tree would never have grown into the awesome being that she was.
In realizing that, I thought of my own life. The loss of my PhD dream appeared to me to be very similar to that branch. Because I had invested so much into my earlier degrees and my fledgling career, it was among the biggest of my dreams. In fact, if I were to draw myself as a tree, that branch probably would have mirrored the real one above me. But yet, I wanted more in my life, the love I shared with Dan being the most important. In order to have the energy to nurture that love, I knew I needed to prune back my own education dreams. But even though I understood the need to do so, it hurt. That pruning, though, the intentional breaking of that branch, provided me much more opportunity than I had previously realized. As I sat under that towering tree, I saw my own growth mirrored within it as well. I knew that my relationship with Dan had allowed my own core being to grow stronger and taller, like a tree trunk. New branches had sprouted from my being, our children – of course – but also other interests that I would never have pursued had I remained focused on that one degree. I couldn’t help but realize that underneath the pain I’d carried so long, things were growing and thriving in ways I would never have imagined twenty years earlier. With that awareness, I had to admit, that maybe, just maybe, the breaking of that branch in my life was, indeed, the best thing I did.
As I walked away from the tree that day, I’ll admit that everything didn’t automatically become perfect and ever joyful from that point on. I did, however, have a strong image to hold in front of me whenever any doubts began to emerge. Rather than allowing the “what if’s,” and “if only’s” to overcome my sense of self, I focused on what is true in my life: a deep, powerful love that strengthens me, and all sorts of wonderful people and interests that have borne much fruit through the years. Grandmother Tree taught me much that day. I am humbled to share her wisdom….
What are the gifts of your broken limbs? In what ways have you grown that would have been impossible had not something ended or been broken off in your life?