Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Resiliency is Inspiring

You might not want to read this Candice and Sandra, if you haven't finished the book yet.

In my friend's backyard there is a tree growing around a fence. One day she brought me back there to see it and we spent several minutes marveling at the idea. I thought again of this tree while finishing reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn this past weekend. Despite the fact that I cried through most of the chapters I read on the ferry to Connecticut, one theme was standing out to me as I came to the conclusion of the story: Resiliency.

The dictionary offers two definitions of the word resiliency:

1 : the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
2 : an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

I realized, while crying through the chapters recounting the death of Francie's father and her discovery of his postmortem graduation gift to her, that it is the protagonist's resiliency that makes this novel so true, so wonderful, a classic.

"She looked down in the yard. The tree whose leaf umbrellas had curled around, under and over her fire escape had been cut down because the housewives complained that wash on the lines got tangled in its branches. The landlord had sent two men and they had chopped
it down.

But the tree hadn't hadn't died.

A new tree had grown from the stump and its trunk had grown along the ground until it reached a place where there were no wash lines above it. Then it had started to grow towards the sky again." (368)

What a beautiful metaphor for the human spirit. Imagine this: You are that tree. I am that tree. Now ask yourself: "What can hold me back from my goals and dreams?"
I really connect with stories where the protagonist gets knocked down and stands back up, metaphorically speaking. I think we all do. We all can relate to human suffering on some level.

When I was in fifth grade I was having a bad day, or year, for that matter. I guess I felt left out for the first time in my life. Social life at school was challenging for me, coming from a home life where I played queen in my grandmother's living room. At school I wasn't queen, or rook. Heck, I wasn't even in the game.

My dad often brings up in conversation a composition I wrote that year, in part for his own amusement, and also because it left an impression on him when I was a child. The assignment was:

Write a story about something in nature from the perspective of that thing.

Of course most of the girls were birds, butterflies and cotton-tailed rabbits. The boys were tigers, bees, and worker ants. My title was:

My Life as a Weed

I got so into writing this story that I rhymed some of it like a little poet. This is what I can remember-

"The flowers say: 'Go Away! There's no room for weeds to play.' Oh, what a lonely life to lead! Nasty roses need a kick in the seed!"

I can still picture that composition on yellow scrap paper in all its awkwardly penciled, mis-spelled glory. It got returned with a C- written in red ink. The teacher said that it was riddled with spelling errors, and very depressing. I stuffed it into my duffel bag and cried walking home from the bus that day. I was lamenting a world without spell check, and more importantly, that my teacher in his green-newbie-ness had insulted me.

I knew that story was good despite the grade because it was honest and I enjoyed writing it. It was authentic Loren. I had been brave enough to show real feelings, even if they were not pleasant or flattering. Dad still praises that composition as the greatest story I've ever written. My teacher, like Francie's, missed the point.

That vision of being a weed has served me well in my life thus far, as the tree metaphor did for Francie. Although, thankfully, I can not fully compare my life experiences to hers, I can relate to the idea of striving toward the light of purpose, struggling with faith, moving around limitations.

When I was really young, like five or six years old, I would get so much pleasure from finding dandelions. I thought they were magnificent flowers that I could pick and give to my most prized adults. I mourn the moment I found out that they were unwanted lawn invaders. To this day a lawn filled with golden dandelions is beautiful to me. It's just a matter of perspective.

In the story, this mixture point of view of the child Francie, and that of an adult Francie looking back really interests me. A book that shares a similar point of view is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The narrator is recalling the feelings and viewpoints of her child self, while processing the events with the wisdom of an adult looking back into the past. The tree is Francie. This metaphor is born from adult self-reflection. I hope that in my life I can hold on to these two perspectives: the innocent and truthful lens of childhood and the wisdom of womanhood.
(Loved this book!)
Picture is not my own...It comes from Flickr.


Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

This is why we get along so well. I used to get all 1's ("excellent") on my report card in elementary school for academic subjects and then 3's for things like "gets along well with others". I really did not know how to play with the other children. Francie didn't either, and it wasn't just because her mom doused her hair with kerosene. She spoke Shakespearean English, for one thing. And she was sensitive, and showed it. Oh, look up "dandelion" in my blog and you'll see a little thing I wrote a long time ago on why those lions are so dandy. I also loved To Kill A Mockingbird. It's so great to be able to tell a story from a children's perspective, yet both novels are very adult in their insights. Nice reflection!

Loren Christie said...

Thanks Elizabeth. Elizabeth posts her reflections on this book on her blog -

Brian said...


I didn't read the book - but you have a great blog - some real good reflections. Keep it going....

Koala Bear Writer said...

That does sound like a good book. Stories like that are always encouraging. I like your weed composition. Stupid teacher. :)

Sandra said...

I didn't read the post about "A Tree..." yet. I'm ashamed to say that I have neglected my reading lately. I am not one of those people who can read a book in a day or two. The fact is, I can put a book down for days at a time and then I'll pick it right back up where I left off. My life is just so busy. But, I'll promise you this. Whenever I DO finish reading it, I'll let you and Elizabeth know my take on it. Just bear with me. It may take me awhile!

Loren Christie said...

Take your time and enjoy the book. I just happened to get a block of time to read it. (Plus, I cheat by downloading into my Ipod and listening to it while I clean the house.)

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


Loren Christie

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