There's this phrase or idea that seems to circulate through most modern circles. The idea of being "grounded" or “rooted", is something that frequently surfaces a large majority of the arenas I find myself in; primarily with common aged folks, who also find themselves on a quest to discover their own sense of identity and significance.
Throughout my life, I’ve typically considered myself a mostly "grounded," or "rooted" person. Someone with a good head on her shoulders, who doesn't have too much of an existential crisis when things don't go her way, or calamity seems to encroach upon her tranquility. In the face of disappointment, disheartenment and disillusion I’ve always seemed to find a way out from under whatever dark cloud it is that is trying to hide my sunshine and barricade my forward movement.
In the midst of my somewhat grasp of the grounded person I consider myself to be, I’ve more so associated with being a “free spirit,” a carefree woman who goes where the wind takes her and isn’t tied down to the conventionality of a normal life. These contradictory natures have always seemed to rotate within my deepest core, creating an insatiable longing to be free, while simultaneously needing to feel as though I belong.
From the age of five to eleven, my family moved five times, and when I say move, I don’t mean down the street, or even to neighboring communities. We crossed the state lines of Virginia (twice), Tennessee, Florida, Texas, and finally into Oklahoma from the years of 1993 to 1999. During those critical stages of early childhood development, and the meager beginnings of the personal understanding of my ever-evolving young mind, I quickly learned to never allow myself to get too attached to places, things and even people.
Moving was heartbreaking, exhilarating, eventually expected. After a year of so of being in the same place, I’d find my pure, little heart growing restless and beginning to desire change and the unfamiliarity of uncharted territory. While I am altogether grateful for the tenacious and adaptable nature my nomadic childhood yielded, I can see its effect in my adulthood as it translates through to my emotions, my ability and inability to develop relationships, and ultimately feel this thing we call rooted.
Constant uprooting does a lot for a child. It teaches them the finite nature of life, that everything has an expiration date, and to never allow yourself to get too comfortable. Life was created for change, and you always have to be ready for anything.
I’m overwhelmingly thankful for the way in which I was raised. It unsurprisingly made me who I am today, and shaped me into a person with a great tolerance and large capacity for adversity. It is what allows me to have lived in a grossly impoverished, developing country for almost four years, however, it also explains the complexity of the polarization that defines me to the core.
As a person of inscrutable unconventionality and individuality, the challenge to find a sense of balance and rootedness seems to continuously prove itself to be unsuccessful. A cacophony of unachievable aims and aspirations as the glass of my life compass remains fogged, unable to provide direction as to which way to go.
As humans, no matter how “free spirited,” or nomadic we may be, we always want to find that which grounds us. We long for, and even crave a place to be rooted, a place that feels like home and gives us the sense that we belong, and provides us a sense of meaning and understanding.
We were created to be rooted.
The more I mature, and allow myself to be completely honest, I come into the realization that we are not meant to be directionless leaves blowing in the wind. We are not created to be floating on seas of unknown oceans rocked by each wave that comes our way.
But, as I come into this realization that rootedness is what we were created for, I’ve also begun to acknowledge that being grounded or taking roots doesn’t necessarily insinuate a physical place.
Being rooted means finding strength, purpose and a firm foundation within yourself. It’s being so solid in who you are, what you are, who you serve, what you were created for, that not much else in the tangible world can affect these truths.
For the past few years as I’ve adjusted into life as an American in Haiti, I’ve struggled with this sense of rootedness more than ever before.
My desire for balance has proven to be impossible as I’ve failed at managing the wildly different worlds I find myself in between.
A good friend recently said it best, “the polarization of your life doesn’t leave much room for moderation.”
Being moderate or balanced has been a feat I’ve far from conquered. I find myself caught in the bizarre pendulum swing of being a United States citizen hailed from privilege and luxury, and simultaneously a samaritan standing in solidarity in the fight against poverty and injustice in an ever tumultuous world— making a savage attempt of reconciling the two.
Getting dogs in Haiti were an attempt of finding that sense of home and setting roots. Putting up decorations, and inviting house guests over for home cooked meals, also fell under this same attempt. Yet, all of it continuously seemed to be swept up and turned upside under the waves of the cultural clashes of dual sided re-entry, a bitter and brutal reminder that neither place will ever truly feel like “home.”
On my most recent trip to the United States, I had the privilege of visiting the ever-beautiful San Francisco, California. If you travel about an hour north of the City by the Bay, you’ll come across Muir Woods, a hidden forrest tucked away in between of rolling hills, and the crashing waves of the Pacific. It is a national park, a treasure, and rightfully so. Upon entering the park, you’re enveloped in an aura of mystical wonder, and greeted by majestic trees whose height and grandeur entrance you and take your breath away.
Along the wooded path, I come across a tree that is estimated to be around 240 years old. She is considered a female, and one of the most gorgeous creations I’ve ever laid eyes on. I begin to ponder the life this tree has seen. The changes her forest has gone through, neighboring trees that have been claimed by the circle of life and no longer stand, and the countless individuals who have come to marvel at her beauty over the nearly three centuries she has been in existence.
What has allowed her the ability to remain tall and strong throughout almost three hundred revolutions around the sun?
What gave her the strength to the weather storms, earthquakes, and climate change without being ripped from the earth that stabilizes her and gives her life?
She is rooted.
She is firmly planted with thick, and strong roots that go deep down into the earth’s core, giving her the stability to stand strong in the face of the most torrential of wind and rain.
Over the next few days, I continue to process the forrest and that gorgeous, 240-year-old tree. This idea of being rooted resurfaces and draws to the forefront of my mind.
Single, hot tears slowly roll off my cheeks as I share my ever-conflicted heart with the aforementioned friend about my battle with personal imbalance and finding my place.
When all at once, everything starts to make sense.
My roots can't grow in physical place or sphere. I come back to the realization that I have to be grounded within.
Life will always be unpredictable.
Children will be uprooted, homes will be sold, people will change cities of residency, and nothing will ever stay the same.
The only way to not allow yourself to be thrown entirely off kilter in the wake of an unsettling change is to be rooted.
Knowing who you are, what you are, whose you are, what you were created for, and making space for the unknown and unexpected ever changing waves of life.
Allowing the winds to blow through you, but never remove you from the firm foundation that connects you to the core of who you were created to be.