I live on the top floor of a 7-story building. There’s a tree outside my window that reaches higher than the roof of my building. It’s not a particularly thick tree. About halfway up the trunk it splits into two main parts, one much skinnier than the other.
I’ve been thinking about this tree a lot lately as we’ve had some pretty windy days in New York over the last couple of months. From super storms to snow storms, winds in the city have gotten up to 40 and 50 miles an hour, something we’re not used to seeing.
And when the wind blows, the tree outside my window sways something fierce. The main parts of the tree will move several feet back and forth. If they were just naked branches blowing in the wind it wouldn’t hold my attention as much, but these are large substantial pieces of tree that could easily do some damage if they ever broke off and fell.
Winter makes it seems even more exaggerated as the snow and ice on the branches add unknown weight, changing branches that used to point up into ones that are bent to point down, and turning the whole tree into a rocking, shifting, groaning beast of danger.
During the day time it can be scary hearing the wind pick up and then seeing the tree lean, almost impossibly to one side, before eventually returning to it’s normal pose.
At night time it can be terrifying as the sound of the wind is the same but I can’t really see what the tree looks like, just hear its many branches scraping and clawing against the side of my brick building, creating new and unfamiliar sounds.
It makes it hard to fall asleep, lying there wondering as the wind picks up if this gust is going to be strong enough to do some damage, if the next surge will be followed by a mythical crack that will snap a part of the tree off and send it careening off the sides of apartment buildings and down to the alley below.
It’s hard not to become entirely focused on it.
But in all the time that I’ve lived here, through every major storm be it wind or rain or snow, the whole time, the tree has remained standing with more branches on it than underneath it.
And every time the wind blows and I watch the tree waiting for that scary sound, in my head, over and over, I hear the same phrase:
Bend but not break.
I’m not sure where it came from, or when it first appeared, but it’s there, deep within my head and my heart, like a beat that you don’t even notice but can’t help but tap your foot too. It plays itself over and over, on repeat. Like a mantra or a warning, or perhaps a simple reminder. Something that exists to counterbalance the force of the wind. Perhaps something given to me by the universe. Or maybe just something I made up and blamed the universe for.
And just like everything else in my life, when I spend enough time thinking about one thing, spend enough time studying it or just staring at it, I can come up with an unlimited amount of seemingly unrelated metaphors that I feel compelled to share with the world.
In addition to spending large chunks of my time staring at affected trees, I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about childhood and it’s role in who we become as adults.
I think about my childhood a lot, maybe because I had such a positive wonderful one. And I think about adulthood because it’s something that I’m always walking deeper into. Perhaps walking isn’t the right word. Moving. Like one of those people movers in the airport that carry you forward even if you do nothing, but move you forward at a tremendous pace if you even walk at even a gentle clip.
Even though I think about both of those things a lot, childhood and adulthood, it is only recently that I have started thinking about childhood’s role in who we become as adults. It has come to my attention, and perhaps only because I’m looking for examples to support this thought, that so many of the things we do, look for, strive for as adults, are as a result of what we did, felt, or experienced as children.
It seems like we are always either trying to prove something to others, or perhaps more frequently, prove something to ourselves.
I’m not entirely sure how my childhood factors into the adult I am becoming. I understand the good things I do, but not always the mistakes. The path that I am currently jogging down seems to be something I might have been leaning towards all along but just didn’t know where it led. If I’m being honest, I still don’t know where it leads, but years of trying and experiencing new things has given me at least a somewhat functional compass that leads me to new and interesting lands.
No matter what I experience though, and what new skills I learn, what knowledge I continue to be bombarded with on an almost non-stop basis, I keep coming back to the idea that somewhere deep inside me, because of my childhood or something I don’t yet understand, I will know the right choices to make by gut, by instinct, and by something deep within the fabric of myself.
And that no matter how hard the wind blows, how much snow and ice exists on the branches, that if a tree is meant to grow and stand tall it will continue to do so, shedding the parts that are no longer necessary. It will continue to occupy the same space, perhaps slightly altered, or visually different in some ways or others, but also perhaps stronger.
Bent, but not broken.