Friday, February 19, 2010

I Am the Tree

I have accepted that I am the tree. 

When I was young, I thought I was the bird.  Don't we all?  I imagined myself on the opposite coast, a fashion designer in New York.  Or in another country, a novelist in London.  Even once I was certain my life was called to teaching, I daydreamed myself in Portland classrooms, Austin classrooms, Atlanta classrooms. I thought to be educated and to be grown up was to fly to another place and begin anew, an identity untethered by my past.

But that was not to be.  So here I am, a girl who loved school who is now in school every day.  A girl raising her family in the same city that raised her.  At times, that has made me discontent.  I have wondered -- why didn't I go?  Who would I be if I had?  Is it too late?  I tend to envy wings the most as graduation nears each June.  My students, whom I love and of whom I am incredibly proud, tend to be birds.  And graduation signals that they are just about to take flight. Often, a piece of me wants to go with them.  Their lives are full of such potential, such possibility, so much left to be written. 

As a teacher, I sometimes feel like I am standing still while the world zooms past me.Yes, in the 54 minutes I have each group of students in my class, we do some inspired work -- sophisticated writing, provocative reading, thoughtful discussion -- but once the bell rings, they are up and out the door, on to the next subject, the next teacher, the next assignment.  And once those caps are tossed into the air, they are up and on their way again.  But not me.  I remain. Out of comfort or compulsion?  I am not always sure.

This week, my students and I have been reading Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles, focusing particularly on the role that time and place play in Tess's life.  Also, we read a blog post by Jim Burke in which he discusses the sequoia redwoods and their ability to shift themselves into odd shapes in order to find the light they need to survive and thrive.  We talked about Tess and whether the concept of thriving is even one she would be able to understand given the setting of the novel.  And then I had to ask myself the question, what light am I seeking in order to thrive?

When I began teaching, I had an article published in California English titled, "It's a Pirate's Life for Me" which discussed why I loved teaching and how the search for treasure and the unpredictable, wild seas kept me engaged.  I believe if I were to rewrite that article now, I would have to use a different extended metaphor. I am not on a journey in the classroom.  I am not seeking a buried chest of jewels; I am reaching for what is illuminating and holy.  I am grounded here -- in a discipline, in a school, in a community.  My roots run deeply into a soil which has nourished and supported me. 

 It was then that I realized, I am the tree.  I am where all those little birds break free from the confines of their shells and chirp from their  nests.  I thrive by being a place for others to tuck themselves away for a few months, but also a place providing them with a perch and a view.  As they grow, they become able to stand on my branches, wings at the ready, and I can feel their tiny toes gripping me anxiously.  Tentatively, they let go, some more capable than others.  After a few seconds, they drop back into my branches to rest and then try again.  Once they have mastered the art of flying, I know I will likely not see them until the seasons have turned, but I hope for them to return, if only to light upon a branch and tell me about the wonders of the world they have seen.  Each time they come to me, I will be here. Another ring of circumference may be marking my insides, but my arms will be another foot closer to the sun.

We learn not only by going, but also by staying and stretching ourselves toward new understanding.  By doing this, we are strengthened and able to provide shelter to those who need it while they ready themselves for flight.

While I may have known this intellectually, I am finally learning with my heart that we each have our own purpose.  The birds need the trees.  Plus, aren't the redwoods one of the seven wonders of North America?  I'll take that.

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