Thursday, January 2, 2014

Hope as a tree

Picture a tree that has grown in an inhospitable terrain.  This is a symbolic tree, that doesn’t require impeccable botanical science to make an analogy.  To survive in the dry, impoverished soil it has extended roots far deeper than normal.  One could say it has grown “tough,” learned to do without, but in fact it is fragile, infirm.  Let’s say someone comes upon this tree and gives it water and some nutrients.  It perks up, brightens, bounds taller.  And if the hippies were right that talking to plants is vitalizing, it responds to cheery words with a mini-flourish.  However, after a while the person leaves (other trees to hug, promises to keep).  The tree’s green light dims, it languishes, loses a good bit of the spirit that came with birth and solitude, survived experience but has now suffered shock: today's resonance with its deep-rooted loss.

Maudlin, yes, but I believe this picture describes the actual state of hope in someone who grew up in a dry and failed land.  His roots are sunk deep into his past, while others’ roots don’t go as deep, are more in the “here and now.”  His leaves play in the breeze but are more drawn in as they are inexorably pulled by the message of the soil, which is loss.  The sun is golden, the day is promise, but the message of the soil is loss.

An eighteen-year-old client tried to fool himself recently.  I had mentioned that of all the teenagers I’d seen in my day, he spoke the least about family – hardly a word in one year.  Disenfranchised foster kids, sullen delinquents, tossed-about itinerants usually would be very conversant about addicted or estranged or loved parents, savior grandfathers, stepmothers, half-siblings, uncles.  And though he lived with both parents alternately, there was not a word.  The self-deception was his claim to enjoy the "quiet" at his father’s home (mother was written off as their relationship had always been cold and superficial).  Father was a depressive.  Spotting a possible contradiction, I mentioned something he had said half a year earlier, that as a little boy he had tried to hold his disintegrating family together by getting them to talk, to play board games.  He had failed.  Was this, I asked, why he could tell himself he enjoyed the quiet of his father’s depressed home?  Yes.  He had failed.  And he had given up.

We talked about the “stain” of a child’s giving up.  With an inward notice, I said, I too could sense the changed landscape from loss of hope's echoing through my earlier life, and could see young life scenes that reflected it.  The stain spreads and denatures the soil upon which everything grows.  The roots remain deep in it, the hands draw in, the trunk infirm even when a lovely girl offers the nourishment of a smile, an invitation to a party.  Hope can happen, or can try, but it would be like a tree leaping into the sky, leaving its ground.  Yet, it can leave.  Or rather, it can find new ground, new nourishment.  Accept the invitation, breathe in the smile, extend your roots to another.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.