I said to a friend a few months ago, "I feel like my roots are exposed." I think that what I meant was more in the context of dentistry - I feel like lately everything affects me like that jolt of cold water over a sensitive tooth. But the idea stuck with me.
I remember growing carrots in the backyard as a small kid. My mom told me not to dig them up early, but I have no self restraint. Their frilly green tops were too tantalizing. I remember secretly digging a carrot up and marveling at how deep the root dug down. The thick orange part, but also the long stringy tap root desperately digging down for water (which was not that difficult in Florida...) And then I tried to dig that carrot back in and pretend like nothing happened.... didn't work.
I learned about roots in early elementary school. About how they draw water from the earth and supply plants and trees with vital nutrients. They provide the necessary structure and support system to allow plants and trees to grow upwards and reach towards the skies. Life giving, life sustaining support. I mean how unbelievable that a tree can grow so tall and withstand decades of weather?
I recently did Ancestry.com, to see where my genetic roots lie. I spent hours and days tracing my roots back as far as they would go to see what characters I share DNA with.
Teeth have roots, and I live in fear of the dentist saying the dreaded words "root canal." In fact I warned the dentist that if he ever had to say those words, he should do it from the other side of the room. The thought of feeling the nerve pain when they fill a cavity and hit the root gives me the heebie jeebies. I also spend a stupid amount of money keeping the roots of my hair concealed so no one knows my true color.
The idea of roots is that they're below the soil. Below the gum line. And they should be below the hair dye line. Protected, not exposed. Because exposure leads to withering, falling, pain, people knowing you're old. Roots ground us, feed us, support us, and yet at the same time are sensitive parts that we strive to keep protected at all times. We start out in life growing our roots deep and wide. Reaching out our roots searching for water and food that nourishes us and propels us through childhood; establishing a support system that launches us through childhood and beyond.
Lately it feels like someone is grabbing my roots and just laying them on the barren soil. Right out in the sun and rain and crowd of people walking by. Maybe that is what being a grownup is about. Two giant roots got yanked out of the ground and laid bare for the world to step on when I had my two daughters. Having children is like having a piece of your most treasured inner soul living outside of your body. My husband's brother died in a motorcycle accident five years ago, ripping up a whole handful of roots and laying them bare. Then my dad had a massive stroke a year later. I think in the last four years every root I have has moved above ground. Still clinging to the rocky terrain, still keeping me upright, but out there getting regularly jabbed by that evil hygienist hook.
And yet, the trees with their roots on top of the earth? They grow anyway. Their job is to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. To make energy from sunlight. And despite laying their roots bare, they grow anyway.
I've never experienced grief like when my father was sick for almost four years and then died. Losing one of the two people that brought me onto this earth and made me who I am left a hole that instead of healing seems to expand. I'm very raw and it feels like the world is trampling on my roots. Zingers right and left. The strangest, most unexpected things bring on the tears. Arriving at the Tampa Airport where for all of my flying like a grownup life my dad would meet me at the terminal still makes my breath catch. Watching Jeopardy. Seeing the Tampa Bay Rays on TV and thinking of his face as he watched them. The memories are everywhere. Unavoidable and sneaky. And each time one pops up, it feels like someone steps on a root.
The terrain has been rocky and barren over the last five years. In addition to grief and sadness we have the usual dark comedy of life in the Northern Virginia suburbs with school problems, house problems, kids health issues, a house beset with mold, the death of a beloved pet. And cruelly enough the world around doesn't pause to give you a chance to remedy the problems, to get everyone back on their feet and marching in the correct direction.
In a strange twist of roles, I found that I'm not just the little girl anymore and I have my own support to give. To my grieving mother who lost her spouse of forty-six years. To my children, who lost their Granddaddy who always always loved to play with them even when that meant just laughing at their antics as he got worse. To my sister, who also lost her daddy. These are my bare roots. The pain is raw. The grief is immense and sometimes feels like it might eat you whole.
But it won't, because that isn't how this goes. It isn't a terrible life. We laugh. We keep putting one foot in front of the other. We travel. We get kittens. Like these trees, we grow anyway. We take our bare, exposed roots and find water. We cling to the earth and keep growing upward. We continue making energy from the sun. We might have some weathered branches, but if you look, there is life. These exposed roots of mine still provide strength, nourishment, and water to me, and to those close to me.
Despite the adverse conditions, despite the rocky desert clay, we grow. We survive. I know this is true. I have photographic evidence.