The other day I went to the Ivan Racheff Gardens, a delightful oasis next to the Gerdau Knoxville Steel Mill, formerly Knoxville Iron Works. This lovely garden is near where I used to live but I did not even know it existed. Racheff created three acres of gardens from what was once an unsightly slag heap and it was a lovely and peaceful spot to wander with friends, a pocket of calm beauty in the midst of industry and highway construction. I shall return.
It is this tree with its mammoth wisteria that has lodged itself firmly in my memory however. I should have had a friend pose next to the tree for scale. It is the stuff of childhood dreams and imagination. I can imagine the wonder of it, the games I would play, the magical realms. And yet, as an adult it is something we could easily walk by.
Wisterias are strong, heavy vines. They can pull down a structure, can pull down a weak or damaged tree, and yet this tree looks very healthy. This tree and this vine seem to be cooperating, supporting each other, working together in relationship and there is magic in this as well, perhaps even a bit of heaven. For each, wisteria and tree (and no I do know know what kind of tree) are entirely themselves, each living out their essential tree-ness or wisteria-ness, and yet, they must live together. They must simultaneously yield to the other and fortify themselves in order to assist in upholding the other. Through this process they remain fully themselves and yet also something else, uniting in relationship.
We humans tend to not think about other living creatures in terms of relationship, or even in terms of "selves". We like to think we are unique, but we also struggle with our sense of uniqueness. A tree can be a tree, a fox a fox, yet we rarely allow ourself such simplicity of truth. We build complex societies, structures that shape the way we see our essential selves, then, in our fight against our own self-imposed structures, we search for our "true" voice, and seek to stake out our individuality. We lean away but we do not lean in.
Every year we watch the cycle of the seasons, the cycle of life. We see birth and death. We see growth, and strength, weakness and damage. We also see care, blossom, and beauty. You cannot have strength without fragility, life without death. We try to convince ourselves that we can overcome nature, overcome our own essential beings. But to soar, we need to lean together, strengthen ourselves with, not against, allow ourselves to risk failure, for only then can we also find true support. Our strength is relationship, for we cannot live alone, but relationship only thrives in shared vulnerability, and yet fear of vulnerability is our downfall, our weakness.
And so it seems it is our weakness that makes us strong. Only by leaning in, in opening ourselves to vulnerability, can we can find strength. Only then can we find true support. Only then can our blossoms fill the high heavens.