On Loving and Leaving and Getting Left Behind

The image of putting down roots is a beautiful one. The mightiest trees didn’t appear overnight. Instead, day by day, they slowly sank their fibrous fingers down into the earth, drinking in the very essence of the soil in which they were planted, and converting that essence into a towering trunk, sprawling branches, wind-kissed leaves, and tender fruit.

People have roots. How good it is, how right it is, to sink a portion of one’s soul down into the soil of one’s surroundings and drink deeply. We do that by design, and the fruit grown on deeply rooted trees is sweet.

For six years after we got married, Laura and I stretched our roots out in the soil that is Minneapolis, MN. It was slow growth, probably because of the deep frost line, but after those first few years, we’d reach a state of stability. We felt like we had our feet under us. We forged friendships to last a lifetime. We liked our jobs. We loved the duplex we lived in during those last two years. Things were familiar. Faces were familiar. We had our routines. We reached our branches out toward the sun with thanksgiving.

Then, exactly four years ago this month, we were uprooted. (I can’t believe I just typed the number “four” followed by the word “years.”) But we were prepared for the uprooting, as much as anyone can be. We leaned into the tugs, worked frantically to loosen our roots and make the extraction as painless as possible. In the end, though, there’s no avoiding the discomfort, the exposure, the cold, of being yanked out of soil you’d sunk yourself so deep down into over six long years.

At that point, there was no other way to go but forward. So we packed, boarded a plane, and moved halfway around the globe. The soil here is as dry as a camel’s calloused feet, and it was into that soil that we intended to put down new roots. The stories we could tell from those early days. Yeah. Suffice it to say, our roots have grown much more slowly here than they ever did in Minnesota, the frost line notwithstanding.

Resized Orto Sai-37

And yet, amazingly, the human soul finds a way. Even here it rains. Sometimes. And every time it does, there’s a loosening of the rock-hard topsoil. Small fissures form, and somehow, new roots sprout and find those spaces and begin reaching down. The great Vinedresser of our souls continued to tend his vine. How patient he’s been. Not once has he rushed our growth. He’s just waited and let his design take its course. And taken its course it has. Lo and behold, now, four years later, we have new roots. We’ve forged new friendships that will last a lifetime. Things once mystifying now feel familiar. We have new routines. We’ve felt the goodness of the sun upon our branches once again.

Now, however, four years in, we’ve begun to experience a side of uprootedness I’ve never heard anyone talk about. Everyone talks about getting braced for when your own roots are the ones being yanked out of the soil, and we were grateful for the people who helped us prepare for the shock. Yet, no one talks about bracing yourself for those moments when not your roots but the roots of those around you are all getting pulled and transplanted.

Life is so transient here. People come, spend a few years, put down some roots, and then, for a whole plethora of reasons, find themselves getting pulled and replanted somewhere else. Even after only four years, we’ve seen so many people leave. Many were people growing right next to us. Our roots were intertwined. They got yanked, but we felt their uprooting, too. Our root system was jostled and sometimes cut right along with theirs, but we were left behind as they were whisked away to new soil awaiting them elsewhere.

The number of holes in the soil around us is growing.

We know that new people will be plopped down beside us—never to take the place of those who were taken—that’s just the way life is here. We’ve felt a change within us regarding how we view such people. We wonder how long they’ll last. Or maybe they’ll outlast us and we’ll be uprooted before they will be. Maybe we shouldn’t be too quick to share our portion of the soil. Maybe it’d be better if they put down their roots over there. It’ll definitely be less painful come uprootin’ time. For both of us.

On an intellectual level, we know that’s not the best attitude to have, yet all of us want to protect our hearts. How many times can we endure having other people’s roots—roots that run right through us—yanked up, carted off, and dropped in soil a thousand miles away? We’re thankful for email, Facebook, Skype, and WhatsApp, but I’m convinced the strongest bonds between two people are forged in the furnace of physical presence, that is, when your roots touch theirs.

And yet, even as I type those words, I’m filled with gratefulness for the moments that my roots have touched so many other people’s roots, if but for a short time. For, in many cases, during that time, the touch was significant enough and the furnace was hot enough to forge a bond that continues to this day. We miss so many people so dearly, and yet we can only say that because they got to the point where they meant so much to us in the first place. I guess it’s only right that we share such people with others—let others have a chance to experience the same love that we did. Maybe we’d be selfish to keep them all to ourselves, and so God continues to uproot his beloved plants and plop them down in new soil as he deems fit.

To all those with whom we’ve shared our soil, regardless of the amount of time or the continent on which we grew together, we love you.

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