Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Trees and Hurricanes


"I'm planting a tree to teach me to gather strength from my deepest roots." Andrea Koehle Jones

The Orlando area suffered serious damage in Hurricane Irma, but was largely spared the total devastation of South Florida and the terrible flooding of North Florida. Most of our losses in Central Florida were caused by falling trees. For example, a client couple in southeast Orlando lost their home when a large tree in their yard collapsed during the storm and smashed through their roof, as shown in this picture from a special Orlando Sentinel supplemental section.


But the losses of trees in the area were spotty. We didn't lose whole forests in the storm; only an occasional tree here and there. So why did some trees fall while others stood tall?  

To the casual observer, it would seem almost arbitrary which trees held up and which trees were toppled over by the hurricane. But it was not random at all. A closer investigation would show that some trees had shallow roots, or rotten trunks, or asymmetrical, unbalanced limb patterns, or were in poor soil. There was in nearly every case some deeper underlying trait that made certain trees susceptible to the pressures of the storm.
In a similar way, I have observed that certain individuals stand strong and resilient when buffeted by the inevitable headwinds of life. They emerge from these storms tempered and strengthened by adversity. By contrast, another group of people who face similar challenges are unable to withstand the difficulties they encounter, and eventually they buckle under the weight.  

A closer examination revealed that the decisive difference between these two groups was their willingness in their younger years to confront adversity. The first group took on the problems and obstacles that came their way, whereas the second sought to avoid or sidestep difficulties. By fighting through their challenges, the first group gained competence and confidence in facing the hardships of life, while the second group, seeking to merely slide by, missed those growth opportunities.  

The first group learned they can do hard things, which is perhaps one of the most valuable lessons in life.

This quality of character - the capacity to face trouble head-on - changes everything about the person and the trajectory of their life.   It assures that when the winds blow and the tempests rage, they will still be standing. This idea is aptly described in one of my all-time favorite poems, Good Timber, by Douglas Malloch:

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.

As parents and grandparents, our natural tendency is to shelter our teenagers and young adults from the hard times that come their way. A Native American saying warns us against giving in to this impulse: "What you protect, you make weak."

It's a lesson that's hard to learn and even harder to apply, especially when it relates to those we love. But if we don't do so, they unfortunately may never grow up, or may grow up crippled and unable to cope with life and its challenges.

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