Room to grow… how safety kills creativity
Today I am flying to France after two weeks in the UK. It’s the first time I have taken this route to the airport, and it involves taking a bus from the train to the airport. While waiting for this bus in the fresh Spring air of May Day, I find myself standing beside a tree. As I like to do with plants, I move toward this tree to inquire about the condition of its health. I look at its leaves, and they look a bit dry to me, even this early in the season. I look for its roots; they are wedged into a small opening in the brick sidewalk. What kind of soil does it grow in? What is its exposure to the wind? How much sun and rain does it get? I look again and see that the tree is growing inside a cylinder of iron bars. Why? It seems absurd to me. Is this an insurance requirement, for the protection of small children? Is it to keep the tree safe from theft? Is the cage to keep the tree in? Or is it to keep us out? I don’t know, but I feel sorry for the tree. On closer inspection, I can see that this tree’s cage is its wound. Several of the branches are growing into the bars, the bars cutting into the tree’s flesh as it grows. And I wonder, how long has this been going on? Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death. Fifteen years ago today at Noon (straight up), my mother left her body in a hospital bed in her small apartment in Houston Texas, and went wherever it is we go. She was a few months shy of 80 years old. She had lived a good life, full of hardships as well as achievements. And she fought for her very last breath. Two days earlier. In that very same bed, she looked me in the eyes and said, “I never got my turn.” As a physician and a psychiatrist, she lived her life listening to and caring for others. But she never gave herself permission to express her innermost self. I remember thinking that afternoon as I sat with the empty shell of her body, as the fluid of her cancer-ridden cells drained into the bed sheets, that she had just worn her body out and it was time for her to go. It occurred to me that day that life is a continuously flowing river. Our parents give us the vehicle that carries our spark of life in the world. We grow in a woman’s womb until it is too small, and then we are born. We continue to grow from children into adulthood and on into old age, until our vehicles become too small again. And then we shed them like worn-out skin and move into whatever new and larger form waits for us beyond this one. My mother’s words of regret have guided me in these past 15 years to:
- Know that life is precious and I have a choice about how mine turns out
- Make it a priority to know what I want to express in the world and do it
- Give voice to my fear and doubt but never let them stop me
Sometimes the things we construct to protect us end up harming us in the end. Sometimes we need room to grow. And we must free ourselves from these unyielding constructions to have it. If my mother was not able to do this for herself, then my life can give dignity to hers if I take down the bars she could not. I have always loved these words from George Bernard Shaw:
This is the true joy in life… The being used for a purpose, recognized by yourself as a mighty one. The being a force of nature… instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community… and that as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is the splendid torch, which I’ve got a hold of for the moment. And I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
What is your splendid torch? What are the bars that keep you safe? Bring them down.