We were at a local park, and while I tried to take more than five consecutive steps on my slackline without slipping, my best friend, B, was lying belly-up in the grass, musing to no one in particular about the miracle of capillary action. To give a bit of context, he spent the last year working on a research project funded by NASA, the aim of which being to grow lettuce on the ISS. As he would say, he needed only to build synthetic root systems, and everything else would just fall into place.
So, there he was, examining tree trunks and asking himself how in the world water was brought from the earth beneath him to the very tips of the branches above. “It’s amazing,” he said. “We tumble through life in any and all directions, completely confused and guessing at our purpose, and here…right in front of our eyes…these trees!” With that, his voice trailed off into the afternoon, and he threw his arms up, as though beaming forward a broad gesture of resignation. He had run out of words. Simply put, there wasn’t much else to do but admire those massive, maddeningly perfect, living machines.
Perhaps the slackline— my contemplation of the mental acuity, or the Zen lack thereof that one might need muster so as to walk calmly upon that shaking, suspended ‘ground’—had me listening more deeply, seeing metaphor in everything around me. Maybe it was just the coming Spring, each tiny flower breathing from the newly-unfrozen ground. Each sprout infinitely fragile, each illuminated from within by its very own life. Regardless, what B said sent my mind a-spiral. What if we could live as the trees do, or the flowers?
I don’t pose this question to say that we should root down in one place and never part from it, but only that we should make for ourselves lives that truly work. Think. The limbs of a tree divide and grow into a maximally efficient system so as to distribute water and nutrients, as do the stems and petals of a plant. Obviously, we cannot turn ourselves into fractals, but we can do everything in our power to ensure that we live in accordance with our true selves, that we not cut against the grain of our being.
Basically, I’m saying that a cherry tree would make lousy apples. More importantly, though, it wouldn’t spend a single second attempting to do so. Rather, each year, it blooms pink and gorgeous into the sky, as only it ever could.
I believe people can do the same, that they can become the people they are meant to become. However, in the face of a culture in which money is of paramount importance, this task is anything but easy. In fact, it’s a lot like walking a windblown, wavering slackline, the whole earth quivering beneath your weight. Whatever they might be, though, listen to your passions, and pursue them knowing you’re going to fall. A lot. But keep walking. Trust me, there’s really no other way.