Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Allegory of Family

by AJ Snook

A week ago today my first child – a son – breathed his first gasping gulp of earthly air. It goes without saying, it was a special day for my wife and I. We've had nine months to decide what kind of family we will become. Competitive? Artistic? Eccentric? Traditional? Wealthy? Liberal? Rustic? All labels and blunt adjectives. All decided by others. All meaningless. It didn't take long to for us to conclude we will steer clear of a life together based on an overwhelming obstacle course whose rules include ducking and skirting certain adjectives, while beckoning and begging for specific others. Character judgments based on small sample sizes have no meaning to us. As we traverse the peaks and valleys which we will call the totality of our family life together, there will be no extra room in our knapsacks for the shoddy tool known as social approval. I realize it's best to travel light, packing only our philosophical approach to each day, hour, minute – each aware moment. To represent our topographical life map, I knew we would need more than a narrow adjective, more than the subjective construct of language in all its imperfection and intransmutability. Instead, we would need a bold illustration, one emblazoned with detail and metaphor on top of colorful metaphor. Accompanied by this written description, I sincerely hope the symbolic value of the family crest sets us on the right course in our journey, and that these first steps we take together are deliberate and true.

The setting is a wide open green field, high on an ancient plateau, practically scraping the crisp blue sky, the rays of the life-giving sun bless each of the trees – some clustered into forests, others solitary, noble, and charitable in the way they display their beauty. One lone tree in particular is the symbol of our unity. Its trunk is thick and sturdy, a confident and unrelenting base that is never satisfied with the size or number of its branches.

The canopy above spreads widely and thickly, sucking up the energy from the sun on the outside, but also protecting the moist ground and nutrient rich roots below from drying up. The canopy – like the rest of the tree – is all too important. If a botanist were to measure it, he would notice some peculiar results. One side is longer, the other taller. Both are thick in some places and thin in others, all to be expected. The truly remarkable fact about this bushy and overarching umbrella, though, is that the mass of one side of the canopy is exactly identical to the other. One side of the canopy represents love for the self. The other side represents love for the other, an even split of balance and beauty.

The fruits that hang from these branches are truly magical. Some are your common, general store variety. Others are exotic and rare. Others, still, are exquisite and one of a kind, miraculously alien even. No two fruits on our tree are the same and each one symbolizes our thoughts, ideas, creations, achievements, and any other kind of output or expression. The fruits are our stamp on the world. They are what we leave behind.

But the real magic is that the tree speaks. At the base of the trunk it has a message to share with anyone who sets for a while under our shade for a bit of peace or for a bite of our fruit. The writing of this message is our own, but its origin is unknown. Perhaps it's a message from the universe, filtered through the sun, and shot through us via the dynamic medium of life, and filtered once again (surely far from perfectly) via our clumsy brains, then yet again (sure more clumsily indeed) via our words, pen strokes, key strokes, and a host of other flawed productions. Nevertheless, the tree speaks and we think its following message is worth hearing.

Woven through our trunk – created by the combination of weathered scars induced of felled branches and lightning burns, antler scrapes, knife carvings of passers by, and natural grooves and knots – is an inscription. First, if you look in just the right way, a large equilateral triangle can be seen. Then move your gaze from point to point and inside each you will see the three distinct and beautiful words: mind, body, and soul. It's through this symbol that the life giving waters and nutrients must pass. It's through an even balance of these words that we go on living.

Though it stands alone, our tree welcomes others. Its roots mingle and intertwine with those of others deep underground, tapping the same miraculous source for nutrition to fuel the possibility of another moment, another idea, another creation. It also welcomes the other flora and fauna – toadstools, mosses, vines and tree dwellers – that it comes across. If a deer scrapes it with its antlers, it forgives him. If lightning inexplicably and improbably strikes it, it mourns its lost limbs but learns from the experience, never cursing the universe in anger. When it produces fruit too bitter or too sour – or even rotten – it lets it fall away to get absorbed back into the source. Our tree respects the entirety of existence, even the creek beavers and wood rotting fungus that threaten it.

Finally, our tree is strong and will survive for many, many years, but it also knows that death is always looming, and it is okay to talk about this, because like the rotten fruit that it releases, our tree will also one day return to the source. And it trusts that the life giving cosmic rays from above will one day allow it to sprout up again as something new (plant or animal), giving it a chance to live, to learn, and to experience once again. It has also learned to accept its coming demise as a moment to rejoice in all its mystery and unpredictability, never to fear it. And who knows, maybe one day someone will stop to enjoy our shade, indulge in a particularly tasty piece of fruit, and spread our message elsewhere, beyond the emerald plateau. If we eventually fade from existence -- our once sturdy trunk now brittle and hollow, our branches bare -- may the fruits of our existence live on no matter how small or unrecognizable.

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