“Redwoods reach their incredible height because they grow very close to each other. Redwoods are always surrounded by other redwoods! Because the 100 plus inches of annual rainfall leaves the soil with few nutrients, the trees rely on each other for their vital nutrients. Only redwoods have the strength to support other redwoods. The root systems of redwoods are very shallow. The roots grow no deeper than about ten feet and yet they support a tree that is the height of a football field. It seems impossible but in reality, the roots of the redwood tree graft and interlock with the systems of the trees surrounding it, creating a vast interlocking root platform. This prevents the toppling of even the tallest and most massive trees when soil layers become fully saturated and soggy during prolonged flooding. Baby redwoods actually sprout from the roots of the parent tree. This is a very common sight in a redwood forest. The baby tree gets its nutrients from the parent tree until its root system has spread and intertwined with the root systems of the trees surrounding it.” Secrets From Redwoods About Creating Powerful Teams
I walked with my client from the waiting room into the therapy room to start our weekly session. He lay down on the sofa and stretched out on his back. He folded his arms behind his head and stared up at the ceiling in quiet reflection. I sat in a chair across from him.
I asked, “How’s it going?”
“Not good”, he replied.
“What happened?” I inquired.
“My heart hurts”, he answered matter of factly, still staring at the ceiling.
“What do you mean?” I asked, starting to feel like Anna Freud. I should mention that this psycho-analytic moment was occurring with a five year old boy. I had been working with him since he was three. He was referred to me for therapy to help resolve behavioral and emotional difficulties. He was separated, around age three, from his parents due to their difficulties of providing him a safe and supportive home. He had experienced a high level of distress in his few years of life; and though he was in a nurturing foster/adoptive home, he still struggled to make sense of why his birth parents didn’t/couldn’t love him in healthy ways. During my work with him, he had made incredible progress in verbalizing his thoughts and feelings rather than acting them out. This conversation was proof of that progress.
He clarified his statement. “My heart is broke.”
“Broke?” I questioned.
“Yep, broke.” he said.
“Well,” I replied, “You’ve come to the right place because I can help broken hearts feel better.”
“No. You can’t. You can’t fix it. It’s broken forever.” He emphasized.
“Forever? Wow, that’s a long time.” I said. “ Are you sure I can’t help?” I added.
“No one can help. It’s too broken.” he said.
This may all seem a bit melodramatic; but any five year old is a pro at seeing things in all or nothing terms. Especially when the majority of those formative years were fraught with chaos and discord, it can seem impossible to understand what wholeness is.
So being a good art therapist, I asked him to draw a picture of his heart to show me how it was broken. He drew an outline of a heart, one line connected to form the shape. This is information to me that there is a sense of wholeness inside him; we just needed to work together to highlight it more consciously. He scribbled inside the interior of the outline for a while, emoting his energy in a seemingly controlled manner. I was proud of him at how he was expressing himself. Then suddenly he became agitated and started ripping the picture up into small pieces and tossing them hap-hazzardly on the floor.
“Oh my”, I thought.
“See!” he exclaimed, “It’s all broken. It can’t be fixed!”
We both stared at the pieces of paper on the floor. I asked him what he wanted to do with them and he said he didn’t know. He stood in the midst of the torn pieces (the pieces of his broken heart), as they lay on the floor. He started crying and was visibly very upset. I asked him if he wanted his “mom” (foster mom) to join us in the room to help figure things out. He nodded. She joined us and noticed the pieces of paper on the floor. She asked what happened, in a tone that was quite consoling. He explained the situation; then immediately after his report, he scrambled under the desk in the room and hid. He said nothing, but reached his arm out and grabbed a few of the pieces nearby the desk. His foster mom gave me a concerned glance and I responded with a reassuring smile. I gently told my client to come out when he was ready and assured him that his mom and I would wait. He grabbed a few more pieces and pulled them into his hiding place. After a few moments, he poked his head out from underneath the desk and asked for a pen. His mom handed him a marker and he retreated back under the desk. After a few more moments, he emerged and handed his mom one of the pieces and stared at her. She responded to his gesture by looking him in the eyes and saying, “I love you, too”. He had written “I love you” on the piece of paper. She held the little note in her hand and then held him in her lap and he was visibly peaceful and calm.
I looked at the two of them. At first glance, I saw her hold the torn scrap and heard her re-read it aloud a few times. I watched the boy, whose life felt so broken, smile and rest his head against her. I then thought about how the shred of paper was like a seed. Yes, his heart was experiencing fractured reality and he was desperately trying to make sense of his world, his own worth; and yet, in that brokenness, there was wholeness in the most profound way. The words he wrote on that torn piece of paper (his broken piece of heart) define a relationship.
We are designed for relationships because our Designer fashioned us after “their” likeness (Genesis 1:26). Though God also instructed Moses to teach that “The Lord our God is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). That Oneness is not singular exclusivity. Rather, God is to be understood as a united whole. We possess that same wholeness because of God’s design, God’s identity in us. Our awareness of feeling broken suggests that we are aware that something is, indeed, wrong. Even five year olds can understand that. However, regardless of what feels broken (and is broken), we still possess the imprint of that wholeness on every broken piece. The reality of community lives in a single seed and can be planted to reveal it. Such seedling is dependent, in kind, on other seeds that have been planted to form an intertwined network of community – a crop of interdependent relationships. Those three words my client wrote on that piece of paper embodied a holistic declaration of his attempt to connect with something/someone as much as it symbolized the reflection of what God declares to all of us. We are created for community because we were made by community.
I love holding a newborn. I often refer to them as “acorns of hope”. They possess the reality of what God intended. They represent our humanity so humbly. They need the nurturance of a social system to survive and thrive – and I think we need them to remind us that we all began in such form. Life requires times of reforming and transforming our awareness to reconnect to this original purpose. It’s hard, but we have a lifetime to figure it all out. And we can figure it out together. We have to or we truly fall apart and miss out on experiencing what it is to be truly human.
- Zacchaeus Meets Jesus; drawing by Jamie Wasson 1983 (age 6)
- Secrets From Redwoods About Creating Powerful Teams: Dr. Karen Wolfe
- Art Psycho-therapy by Harriet Wadeson
- Life of the Beloved; Henri Nouwen