The other day on my way home from walking Parker to school, I got distracted by a passing baby in a stroller and tripped over this tree root. I knew the root was there, as I walk past it (around it if I’m paying attention) every day. Twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon.
It’s not a normal root. This root has evil intentions. It’s somehow sticking out and up at an angle, causing it to be 6-8 inches into the sidewalk and 3-4 inches off the ground. This root has stopped serving any purpose to the tree and now simply lies in wait for victims.
This time the root got me pretty good. I stubbed my toe, flew forward a couple feet, but managed to keep my balance by making some wonky maneuver that left my back feeling pretty tweaked.
I thought to myself, “Someone should do something about that.”
I decided it should be the city, but when I called, no one answered the phone. I was annoyed that duties were being shirked.
The next day as I walked past the root, I glanced over at it and felt a twinge in my lower back. It was a reminder that I needed to do something about it.
A few days after that, my lower back was still in pain, and since I had been compensating for a sore back, my neck was beginning to hurt. My hips were beginning to hurt. I was an achy mess.
Every time I walked past the root, I was more irritated. I didn’t plant the tree. This sidewalk is walked by many every day, and no one had done anything about it. Someone could get hurt. Someone DID get hurt! (Me)
I called the city. The first woman I spoke with said I needed to talk to the lady who would decide whose responsibility the tree root was. Then she would determine who I needed to talk to about getting the root removed. She transferred me to the planning department, but alas that woman was out of the office for the president’s day weekend and wouldn’t be back in the office until Tuesday.
I sat and pondered my options. The reality was, I could sit and try to get someone to take accountability for the root, but there was a pretty good chance that since the city expects us to keep those trees alive by watering them, they would expect us to maintain them in other ways, such as malicious root growth.
After all, even though the tree grew on the street side of the sidewalk, it was parallel to my back yard.
If someone gets hurt because of something I know has the potential to cause injury, it doesn’t really matter who’s responsible for the root. I will have neglected to do what I could have done to prevent it. And as time goes on, as the tree grows larger and older, that root is going to become more of a liability.
Such is the case with our family trees and family legacies. In our family trees we have heroes and villains, and we have regular men and women who lived average lives and then became vaguely familiar faces in faded photographs to the generations to come.
But names and dates and black and white photos don’t tell the whole story.
When I first started genealogy research 13 years ago, I had two quests: find the famous connections and go back as far as I could go.
However in the past year and a half, my research has been dovetailing with my own personal growth path which includes spiritual studies, therapy and a complete overhaul of my thought patterns and behavioral habits that haven’t always put me where i want to be.
As a result, I find myself focusing in more closely on the stories of the people from whom I descend. As I have done that, details have emerged that explain generational family cycles that have been unwittingly passed down.
The stories I had been told as a child highlighted the best of my family history, but they don’t paint a complete picture.
Sometimes we are aware of the legacies of dysfunction, but feel like it’s in our DNA, it’s who we are because it’s who they were. We feel powerless to break the cycle.
Sometimes we are living our own frustrating cycles of behavior and have no idea why we do the things that we do. It leaves us feeling broken, and a little crazy.
But I have good news!
We are not powerless against those errant tree roots that mar our family trees and threaten to bring us down. It doesn’t matter whether we planted the tree; Once we have recognized the danger, it’s up to us to get out our metaphorical hack saws and cut that nasty root out of our lives, out of our families, preserving a healthier tree for our children and grandchildren to inherit.
“I’m a yeller.”
No, you’re not. You’re someone for whom yelling was a modeled behavior, and that behavior was modeled to them, and so on. All it takes is one person to break the cycle. That person can be you if you choose!
“I don’t know why I feel so insecure.”
Well, probably because your parent had insecurity and abandonment issues. Or their parent did. My grandfather was abandoned by his mother at 18 months old, by his father shortly after, and left to be raised by his Irish grandfather and haughty German step-grandmother. His way of handling that was to be an emotionally distant workaholic. That doesn’t breed security in your children or your marriage. It leaves scars on that family tree, and on the people who come along afterwards.
” I’m dumb with men.”
Maybe. There’s probably a reason for that too. I learned this past year that my great great grandmother was married multiple times and wanted her grandchildren to call her “Aunt Fanny” instead of grandmother. Her daughter got married at 16, was divorced a short time later, and had a baby with a man (by the appearances of the records) she never married. By the time she married my great grandfather, she was a woman with a past and baggage, probably a boatload of shame, who desperately wanted to be loved and cared for. That longing for love and attention caused her to be openly flirtatious in letters we found to her daughter’s fiance. She loved her husband dearly, but the vacancy inside her couldn’t only be filled by him. Honestly. It couldn’t be filled by any man.
My own family tree is overflowing with great men and women. It’s also riddled with alcoholism, drug addiction, codependency, perfectionism, emotional disconnection, divorce, and abandonment.
So what do we do with the information that who we are isn’t only the choices we’ve made, but also the things we’ve learned to be as a result of generational brokenness?
First, we understand that knowledge is a gift, even when it’s of the ugly that lurks in our family. Knowledge and awareness creates opportunities for personal growth. We take accountability for our own choices. We recognize the role our family history has played in shaping us, and we chop off that damn root completely. For ourselves, and for our kids. And for their kids.
It only takes one person to change the dynamic of the whole family for generations to come.
We don’t have to chop the whole tree down, just the root that is giving us trouble. Then, come spring, that tree will be blossoming because it will no longer be sending its energy to that nasty root.
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