Essays

The planting of trees

Earlier this week, on my flight back home from across the country, I sat next to a mother and her 17-month old little girl. I was, in a single word, delighted.

I love children. It is not the first thing that people think of when they meet me. Or even the second thought. I come across as rather persnickety, perhaps, fastidious in my dress and grooming, specific in my eating habits, and rather … precise. Not the sort of person you think wants to get messy with kids and is super warm.

My life in recent years has given me lots of hours on planes. I like to travel; I like to go places and see new things, meet new people, and experience different cultures. My passport has more than a few stamps and I’ve got well-developed packing habits (and things!). Therefore, some folks get the impression that I’m a constant mover, in search of being a nomad. Not the sort of person you think wants to stay in one place and build a family.

And all of those people are wrong.

Without any hesitation I can say that I want to start and build a family. Right now, no worries about it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the political climate we live in: I do, it’s nerve-wracking, even scary. That doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize how many people would look down, look askance, or attempt to shame what my family would look like: I know this more than most!

That doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize that we cannot control the future and so I could have kids… and they could get sick. I could get married… and that person leave me. Or I leave them! Or that I could lose my job, or illness could strike my family, or any number of terrible, difficult, and painful things could happen in the future, without warning and it be a deeply unfair thing.

But, what is the alternative? To live in fear? To hide between verbal bombs on social media, to pursue perfectionism at the expense of joy, and to stand back and let the world pass you by?

Midway over the middle of this country, this little girl’s mom and I talked about education, how it was challenging for teachers and for students, and what we thought the world would look like 10 or 20 years from now. She expressed her concern about what culture and climate her daughter would grow up in and how to make sure her daughter had all the options in front of her. She spoke about her husband’s background, South African, and the challenges of that country. She spoke about her own concerns around her parents’ getting older and the stresses that put on her.

And throughout it all, this little girl hopped back and forth between her mom and me, playing peek-a-boo, smiling, and laughing, giving hugs and high-fives and thumbs up, and complaining a bit when the descent began and her ears began to pop — something even I, as an adult, struggle with and I can express my frustration and she can’t! — and the thought settled in my head:

“Okay, this is what I want. I’m ready for this.”

Every generation has its own challenges. We live in a time of great material abundance, and fantastic psychological pain. We have food, water, and clean air… and yet somehow we also lack enough food, lack clean water, and suffer pollution. Climate change is a looming planetary crisis. Populism has reared its Hydra heads and we are all being bit by their sharp teeth, no matter which side of the political divide you sit on.

But, we cannot stop living, you know? While we should not stick our heads in the sand and pretend that it is all okay, we also do ourselves great disservice if we walk through the streets wearing hair shirts, wailing in lamentation in self-flagellation and denying ourselves present happiness and joy and the idea of a future.

We cannot stop living. We need to keep planting trees, keep starting our families however they look like and no matter who tries to stop us, and we must going, one step at a time, and each day at a time.

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