People come and go in our lives. Each have different circumstances and emotions attached to them. Coming to terms with separation is one of the hardest things to do. With mixed bag of emotions, we are left trying to make sense of it all. Or, we find ways to avoid dealing with them entirely. It's a painful process.
Many years ago, I stumbled upon a tree analogy that shared how we should think about the people that come and go in our lives. It stuck with me.
Before I present my thoughts on why, I’d like to first invite you to read for yourself.
Let’s pause. Please take a moment to reflect on how this perspective makes you feel. And why.
Alright. Let the twists and turns begin! Here are my savage thoughts on this tree analogy perspective -
While mourning the loss of relationships, be it friends, family or lovers, reading this perspective is quite calming. It makes us feel like we are the bigger person for taking the high road. We are the ones with greater understanding of the situation, and hence, wiser. They did us wrong, but they are ignorant and don’t know any better. We are the good guys and they are the bad guys.
Under the guise of wisdom, understanding and awareness is a clever analogy that is in fact, superbly condescending, judgmental, short sighted, self-centered and egocentric. The tragedy is that many of us subscribe to such perspectives when dealing with people that come and go in our lives, which in and of itself is a natural and beautiful process.
There are fatal flaws that underscore perspectives shared in the tree analogy, which then permeate into society and how we treat each other. We ought to understand and reveal these flaws. And then, challenge ourselves to think differently with healthier perspectives.
LEAF PEOPLEWe have a finite amount of time everyday. As a result, we make choices about what, where, how and with whom we spend that time. We can maintain only a certain number of relationships within this finite time slot, all of whom are on different levels of intimacy, meaning and depth.
Each relationship requires different amounts of love, attention and care. Typically, we can nurture only a handful of deeply close relationships that require the right amount of sunlight and water. When that bond is well established, it paves the way for us to explore, foster and nurture new relationships, if we so choose.
Not all relationships are meant to be explored to the ends of the earth. And they are not always measured in time. Time is relative. Our focus ought to be more on the quality of interactions we have with each other rather than the quantity of time we spend together. There are folks we stumble upon for 30 seconds to 30 minutes to 30 days that have profound impact on our lives. So much so that they change the trajectory of our lives! That’s how powerful our interactions with leaf people can be!
Furthermore, the analogy shares that leaves are “only there to give you shade.” Well, it’s one of their purposes and they’re serving their purpose well. Are we judging them for serving their purpose?
On any given scorching summer afternoon, one would receive much needed respite under a shaded tree. We ought to be grateful for the gift of shade it provides when we need it the most. If ungrateful, that speaks more about us than it does about the leaf people.
Leaf people come into our lives to serve as catalysts or wake up calls. They guide us towards our “aha” moments. We can often confide in leaf people in a way that we are unable to with our root people. We can share magical moments of mutual understanding of deep levels without the continuum of time. Leaf people are like the comets that whiz by us, sharing their light, power and stealth.
Leaf people are in our lives for a reason. Leaf people are unique and beautiful.
BRANCH PEOPLEThe interpretation bestowed upon branch people is strewn with judgment. They are viewed as fickle and weak characters – not dependable and not worthy of our trust with an underlying theme of deceit. But are they?
We are lazy and self serving. So we make everything about ourselves, while failing in epic proportions to think about others. Have we considered what branch people may be going through in their lives? What are they dealing with? What are their perspectives, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with them?
And just what if we may not be healthy influences in their lives? If so, then the branch people should break away. It’s a hard decision, but one that has to be made for the benefit of all in the long run.
We judge branch people and quickly categorize them as either heroes or villains. And with that, the tree analogy perspective claims that branch people are bad. They are villains who pretend to be our rock, but in the end, they deceive us. This idea is embedded and propagated in every thread in our society starting with fairy tales to the repeated formula in movies, theatre or commercials. Every story must have a hero and a villain.
But what if we didn’t?
We would probably have convulsions if we weren’t able to pin things on bad guys, right? We must find villains in every story! And of course, when we write our own story, we always assign ourselves as the hero. By default, that leaves everyone else to be the villains.
We choose to interpret and process events in our lives this way because it’s easier to blame everyone else. It allows us to bequeath responsibility and ownership of our own thoughts and actions, and how we contribute to our own situations. Above all, it makes us feel like martyrs.
We must break away from our simplistic, myopic and restrictive ways of categorizing people as either good or bad, heroes or villains.
If that wasn’t enough, there is yet another idea we are obsessed with - the idea of forever. The problem with being married to the idea of forever (pun absolutely intended), is that forever doesn’t exist. Goodbyes are a part of life. We should graciously accept the goodbyes with gratitude and grace. Some goodbye’s come sooner than others. Some are harder than others. None are good or bad. They just are.
Branch people come into our lives to help facilitate our growth. Through our time with them we get to learn and explore the world and ourselves. We get to understand who we really are. We build a lot of memories together and go through significant periods of our lives together. Branch people help shape and define our experiences, and hence, us.
Branch people are in our lives for a reason. Branch people are unique and beautiful.
ROOT PEOPLEIt’s easy to make a list of people that failed to serve us as our roots. But let’s switch and look at things outside in. Are we roots for everyone that’s in our life? Presumably not. Does that make us weak or bad people? Again, presumably not. Then why do we expect and want everyone else to be roots in our lives?
Furthermore, an overpowering assumption bestowed upon the root people is that they are superior to the leaf and branch people. The analogy claims that root people are the ultimate prize we should all be searching for. While roots are critical and serve as our rock and foundation, not all roots are equal.
There are times when the storms are so severe that even the root people in our lives cannot hold up anymore. They get uprooted as the storm proves to be too powerful. And that’s not a “bad” thing.
Additionally, people change – as we all should! As a result, we may need different root people as we continue our journey of life.
Roots can also catch diseases leading them to rot over time. In other instances, whether knowingly or unknowingly, root people may be in our lives only to tear us apart from the inside. It’s important to appreciate the root people in our lives while recognizing that like the leaf and branch people, there is no such thing as permanent or forever.
Root people come into our lives and serve as our confidant, strength, rock and foundation. They know who we really are. There is no hiding from our root people. They have been with us through many challenging, fun and memorable times. Root people keep us grounded and centered. They also challenge us the most; they know us to our core and hence, push our boundaries in ways that typically the leaf and branch people may not be able.
Root people are in our lives for a reason. Root people are unique and beautiful.
Trees consist of leaves, branches and roots. They are all needed in equal measure, each serving their own unique purpose. Each of them ought to be appreciated for who they are and the gifts they bestow upon us by being a part of our lives. The gifts are provided and exchanged in forms of love, understanding, challenges and much more. They afford each of us the opportunity to learn, grow and evolve.
At any given time, we are the leaf, branch and root people in other people’s lives, just as they are in ours. As relationships develop and morph, we transition from leaf to branch to root, in any order and at any given time. It’s the dance of life. It’s fluid.
And remember, time is relative!