A few weeks ago, the roommates and I had the annual tree-putting-up night. It’s become tradition here behind the green door, all current members of the house gather their ornaments and lights, we order in Chinese take-out, and we listen to Bing Crosby or some other Christmas crooner. This year, we sat around the table to eat before we made the tree sparkle with love and light. We talked about Christmas and traditions and 2016 and memories and life. Seeing as I am my mother’s child, I could not resist the opportunity to ask a question of sentimental value: what word defines 2016 for you? How will you remember these past 365 (not quite that many yet) days?
I love hearing people answer these kind of questions. But then there’s a little problem; they always make me answer them, too, and then I have to think and it’s hard.
But this year my word was easy: roots.
For sure, that’s the word of the year for me. I have discovered new depths of what roots mean, of how roots define, and of how roots come to be transplanted. I’ve had to learn that uncovering others’ roots helps me to understand them. Ironically, I’ve also been learning that solid roots allow wings to grow. Roots are crazy important.
The branches on a dogwood in April put on a marvelous show. But it’s a healthy root system that helps that happen. Without it, the glitz and glamour of the leaf would be nonexistent.
But the funny thing about roots is how hidden they are. Especially when you’re a nomad. But they’re there. Oh boy, yes they are.
So I guess this year has been a time of me learning this. Learning this about myself and about those around me.
There are three kinds of root systems for a person: regional roots, family roots, and faith roots. 2016 has taught me how deeply each of those roots run within me.
First, regional roots. I’m a transplant. I moved to the hills of South Carolina going on nine years ago. I love that my wings have brought me to the land where tea is sweet and neighboring is an art and life moves a little slower. With each passing year, my roots here grow, they deepen. I’m not a visitor in this zip code; this is home. And I love that. But a transplant will never be a true Southerner. There may be flairs and flavors that sink down, but you can’t replace a system completely. I discover that when I go to the land of my roots. I’m a Northern Ohio girl deep within. That land has shaped me. The land where people work hard and live with less-than-ideal weather conditions. The land where sports fans know heartbreak way too well yet return the next year with a well-spring of hope. I get that. It’s who I am, too, because that’s the root system built under me from the land of my childhood.
Next, family roots. Inescapable. The way we were raised settles deeply within us. I’ve thought about this a lot lately, especially with extended family. My dad’s family was together a few weeks ago. In the morning, one-by-one people appeared, crusty-eyed and bed-headed, looking for coffee and a spot by the fireplace. I had to grin at the less-than-fashionable way that we related. But that’s kinda what it means to be a Mullet. A little crusty around the edges. Like it or not, that’s a root. And strangely enough, it’s comforting when I’m connected to it. Family roots run deep and long and finger their way through everything.
Finally, faith roots. Even within the Christian community, there are so many brands of these. Having both parents who were raised Amish and growing up Mennonite myself, I probably have no clue how much these traditions have influenced me. But as I get older, I get more and more fascinated with how deeply this has shaped me. I’ve got “shema” issues, straw-hat inhibition, and get a kick out of the Mennonite game. You can fight against this root, but it will win. Traces of it will show up in the craziest places.
This is who I am. This is how my roots have shaped me.
Atticus Finch famously told his curious little Scout that if she ever really wants to understand a person, she needs to climb inside of his skin and walk around awhile. I think he was telling her to study roots. I know it’s been true of me this year. Somehow this process of exploring and appreciating my own roots and seeking to understand those of others has helped me understand myself and those around me.
So what’s been your defining word this year?