A tree is not to move, a bush is not to die. Not if their roots have anything to say about it. A living thing’s roots are in place to anchor and nourish, so long as the environment remains viable. How do people who have relocated manage to thrive, when they vacate their soil? If people move far from where they’ve lived, what of their roots? Should the roots be cut, or perhaps dragged along? How do either choices work for a good life?
1984 was an odd year. My family had moved the forty miles from Wakefield, Massachusetts to Gloucester, staying with friends for a month when we needed a place to live in-between homes. At the same time, I finished my freshman college term and started my sophomore studies as well, with different dorms and new roommates. Looking back, living at five addresses that year was more than bearable because I had family and friends with me the whole way. They were my roots, and the 200-mile radius from school to home was elastic enough to hold strong.
Those roots sure could stretch, and boy, could I lean. I kept up my friendships with phone calls, letters, and visits.
The current year, 2022, is shaping in a similar way, with a difference. I’ve moved across the country to an apartment in South Carolina, waiting for our next house to be built. The personal impact is greater than it was in 1984 because this time the move was to a state of strangers. Also, my support structure isn’t as dedicated or dynamic– people are much older, and other responsibilities fill their lives. For me, leaning is not going to work this time around, not with the distance involved. Yes I stay in contact with friends; I just don’t have their physical presence, and physicality is essential with rooted people.
That’s a big change, and the only way the upheaval is going to work, the only way my long-term relationships are going to survive, is to employ certain exercises to reduce the problems of social loss.
Loneliness is a sediment that rushes through the human river, where silt is an idea that can pick up as easily as it can deposit. Loneliness is a man creating companions and situations that could never exist, except in his mind. Loneliness sprouts inter-being marriages of a sort, dozens and dozens of them, where material and time and particle are joined in bliss. Their creation is simply for company. From my point of view my creations all understand the circumstance– because I can manage it.
Here today, I am moving in two weeks, from one new neighborhood to another. What hurts the most right now is a cat I’ll be leaving behind. She’s someone’s Scottish Fold and I see her every morning when I walk. At 6:30 AM at the one-mile mark from my apartment, I pass her house and she comes running to me. We’ve been doing this for months. She calls and I crouch. I know cats; Foldy is one of the great ones.
She purrs, and never bites or scratches. All she wants is to butt her head on my hands, and to be stroked. I’m with her for about five minutes, and she would have me all day if she could.
I tell her, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning!” Very soon, that won’t be true. For me, it will be one more goodbye, in a whole string of goodbyes along the way.
You can make a new friend. Let’s say, you can make a new neighborhood cat friend. That friend will not be Foldy. I’ll go further and say, you should never want that cat to replace Foldy. There is only one that is she.
If you don’t get that, you don’t get the root concept.
Picture this. A pet owner is at a veterinary clinic and his cat’s diagnosis involves a life-saving operation with a three-hundred dollar fee. A choice must be to be made. Will we agree to the operation?
We can spend the $300 for our ten-year old cat, or we can spend $50 to adopt a kitten. How does the second choice not make the most sense? Less money for a newer cat. Why not?
In a person’s healthy social root structure, the above alternative works against one’s well-being. The situation isn’t about economics and it’s not even about affection or love. You can love a new kitten. Loyalty, on the other hand, only knows depth. Depth comes though the passage of time.
Buying a kitten can never be a trade-up from a pet you’ve had for many years. We’re not talking about cars. This is about a being that needs you, and who you need too, and how you’re going to manage the new challenge in her life. Even if you make a crushing decision, it must crush you. If it does not, then you’ve got nothing but dry twigs underneath you.
There is certainly much to consider with any connections we have.
How does a man maintain his roots when he moves far away from the people he loves? For me, the answer isn’t just to keep up with calls and texts. There has to be some physical interpersonal activity in order to make it. I’ve found a way to generously spread technology in a combination with what bits of actual human (or animal) presence I can muster.
Presence must include affection or personal regard, or we’re no better than simply standing in a line of strangers. We might as well be waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles for our driver’s license renewal.
From my home, if I were to walk away, drive away, leave– would anyone miss me? That concept has horrifying facets. For many months this year, I was living in that situation. If I left this building, this town, this state, no one would’ve missed me. Not even a cat– I’d not met Foldy yet.
Interacting with people within arm’s length is crucial for good health. One way came as a surprise to me. I’m on a regular blood donation cycle and I recently realized something. When I donate in my new adoptive state, it’s the only time any stranger– in this case a Red Cross nurse– tells me her name and asks me questions. She touches my arm. Makes sure I’m comfortable. Makes small talk. Her attention is on me. All of that is root-making material, endearing me to the area. It’s in-person. It’s relating, and understanding. It’s someone waiting for me, and counting on me. It has a bonding effect because this human contact took place here, this strange land I’ve found myself.
When I go to bed, I think of a particular person who was once in my life, forty-five years ago, and I renew our conversations. I invent whole new situations with my friend, and express myself. She expresses herself. It’s a way of watering my soil. Sometimes watering isn’t what’s best at a given time. In that case, my nightly mental exercise is like securing a good fence to protect what I have. All the work is a cumulative effort to grow those roots.
My roots are in video chats with dear co-workers. I choose good people who are friends and who know how to exchange what we both need, to live. I do think it’s that serious. I count on my relationships any way I can take them.
My roots are in making friends, where I’ll soon be permanently living. I’ll have a house in a brand-new neighborhood and I’ll be welcoming. No-one will replace my dear friends– they are portable and are with me in technology and imagination. What I’ve learned along the way is that roots are measured in loyalty, they run deep and new sprouts emerge from the bulb. I must care for the entire system, for happiness.