An excerpt from Happy, Healthy You: Breaking the Rules for a Well-Balanced Life
In 2018, I watched a good portion of Hurricane Michael blow through Tallahassee from my front porch. As a lifelong Southerner, I’ve seen a few tropical storms and hurricanes, and find myself stuck between being in awe of the power of nature and wanting to give it a wide enough berth to show my respect.
This storm was no different, and as I sipped my coffee and wondered how long the power would last, I sat under the cover of my porch and watched the trees.
I have a lot of pine trees around my house. I have some of the big fat ones and some of the spindly little ones, and I had placed my bets on which would survive and which would not. As the bands of wind and rain came through, the trees began to sway. And then they began to bend. That’s when I went inside and moved to the window.
I watched the trees bend and thought about their root system. I wondered how far the roots went down and how far over a pine tree could bend. I wondered whether it was better to be a big fat tree or a little skinny tree. And, I noticed some things.
A while ago I saw a quote with a picture of a tree that said, “if you do not like life’s circumstances, move. You are not a tree.” It made me feel kind of bad for trees, because they can’t move from their circumstances. They have to stand there and take it, whether it is a drought or a category four hurricane.
We are like that sometimes too. Sometimes circumstances are bad and it’s easy for someone to say, “well, if you don’t like it, then leave.” But sometimes we are so rooted where we are, either by family or obligations or other life things that happen, and picking up and leaving isn’t really an option. We are like a tree, and we have to stand there and take it.
I know a lot of people who feel that way about their health. They need to make changes, and sure, it’s easy for someone outside to say, “well just eat better. Just get up earlier and exercise. Just quick buying cigarettes. Just do it.” But they are rooted in lives that can’t be undone that easily, and it seems like they have to withstand the winds of life.
But as I watched the trees in the storm, I noticed that they were doing more than just standing there. They were swaying, bending, and releasing. Even when we are rooted where we are, we can do the same thing.
Sway when you can
The storms of life can definitely push us around, but we don’t have to just stand there. Like a tree, we all sway from side to side throughout our lives to allow for this event or that unexpected change of plans. I believe that these times actually make us stronger, more cognitively nimble, and more creative.
Sway when you can so that the things you do to take care of yourself can keep happening even in a storm. Swaying might mean compromising on when exercise happens so that it can, rather than letting it stop altogether.
Bend when you need to
As I watched the trees bend I thought about how they were pretty stubborn and must really be committed to being where they were to withstand so much pressure and not fall over. It reminded me of those times when life gets so hectic that if we want to stay healthy in spite of it, we need to make even bigger compromises.
Sometimes we let exercise go and focus on eating healthy. Sometimes food choices are not in our control so we make sure to stay active and counteract it by staying active. Bending in this way means that we might not be getting everything we need, but at least we’re getting some of it, and sometimes that’s enough.
Let some branches fall
Those trees were swaying and they were bending, but they were also releasing some of themselves in order to stay upright. This is a loss, for sure, but one that is regained over time. Don’t be afraid to let some branches fall off your tree if it means you stay rooted in what supports your physical and emotional health. It’s likely that those things will come back in time, and the loss will be a temporary one.
The clean-up from the storm continues, and as we reach out to the west and help our neighbors recover, I believe that our roots will go deeper and we will be stronger. If another of life’s storms is headed your way, be like a tree. Sway, bend, release, and hang on to your roots.