“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. It is one of the hardest to define. A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future.”
“The most important … need of the human soul.”
That gives me pause. Is being rooted really the thing my soul needs most?
To be honest, sometimes I feel too rooted. Stuck, even.
I’m writing this on Easter weekend – and for our family, holiday weekends are not always as blissful as they may sound. The days are long and unstructured. Jonathan begs constantly to be doing something different from what he is doing. He asks over and over and over for things he’s not able to do (at least not at the particular time he’s asking), and screams with rage when we suggest things he might do. He screams with rage for other reasons, too. Or seemingly no reason.
So it sounds kind of appealing to be unrooted, untethered. Winnie-the-Pooh sang, “How sweet to be a cloud, floating in the blue…” Well, I wouldn’t mind being a little cloud sometimes. I wouldn’t mind being free from the constant demands.
But that’s more a passing feeling than an expression of who I really am.
The more I think about Weil’s quote, the more I realize I’m a person whose soul needs roots. I’m a homebody. I like sameness and security and constancy.
It’s not just my personality type, though: it’s something deeper, a need for those “particular treasures of the past” and “particular expectations of the future” that Weil speaks of.
Back in the summer of 2014, when Mom became seriously ill , while we were visiting her and Dad in PEI, I experienced what it was like to have deep, strong roots. Maybe it struck me all the more because during the previous year I’d felt uprooted when a close, long-term relationship ended. It was devastating. I had thought our roots were deep, our bond unbreakable, but the reality was different. I didn’t see how a long, solid history could have no weight in comparison to a single crisis. But maybe crisis doesn’t so much change a relationship as reveal it.
The crisis with my mom was a radically different experience. During the early days of her illness, hospitalization, and cancer diagnosis, we were in my family home, the farmhouse where I’d grown up and where Richard and I and the kids had spent several weeks a year for many years. In the midst of our worry and fear over Mom, we were firmly rooted in a place of familiarity and history. Richard took over with the kids; he was my support, and together we supported Mom and Dad. We communicated daily with my brothers and other relatives to share updates and make plans. Everyone rearranged schedules, made sacrifices, showed up.
In the evenings, after those of us who had been with Mom at the hospital returned to the farm, we would sit in the kitchen, a place that symbolized warmth and hospitality to us and many other people. We would talk things over with Dad and assure him that we would all be there for him and Mom – and we were.
The phone rang constantly: friends from church, extended family members, people I’d known since I was little, all offering sympathy and practical help. We were stunned and unmoored by the suddenness of Mom’s illness and the diagnosis, but we also felt the strength that comes from community. Weil’s reference to “particular treasures of the past” seems so fitting because that’s what I felt we were discovering at that time. Roots that had taken hold before I was even born were proving strong and deep.
Mom died in late September of 2014, only 18 hours after I’d returned home from visiting her and Dad. Richard and I and the kids packed up and drove back to PEI for the funeral, but then had to return home the very next morning.
That was probably the most wrenching uprooting of all: knowing that my mom was gone for good, and also going from the companionship and support of that lifelong community, back to “everyday life.” The previous two months had been hard, but we had drawn on the strength and depth of those sturdy roots. Now it felt like I was being ripped out of the ground. It took a long time to get over that feeling – even now I’m not sure I am “over” it.
But coming home I found that of course my roots weren’t just back there: people here were also supporting me, praying for me and our family, and offering help and sympathy. My roots weren’t – aren’t – confined to one geographical location or group of people.
It’s hard but good to realize that, because I can’t go back to that safe, familiar place in order to feel rooted and secure.
I mean, I literally cannot go back there. The farm is being sold. My dad has moved. My mom is gone. I will never live in that place again, maybe never even visit it.
And my relationship is over, too. Even if it were revived it would need to look totally different. An entirely new plant would have to grow in place of the uprooted one.
I cannot sink my roots into people and places – not in any permanent way, at least. Not in a way that’s conditional on those people and places being there always. They might not.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t preserve those “particular treasures” Weil refers to. I can hold them in memory. I can look back on them as evidences of God’s presence and grace in my life, as echoes of His voice saying, “I will watch over you wherever you go.”
And that’s really what I think rootedness means: trusting in God’s promise to be with me wherever I go. That truth isn’t dependent on where I am or who is there with me. Ultimately, “My soul finds rest [and roots] in God alone.”
It also means trying to convey that truth to those God puts in my life, and for now that’s primarily my family.
At the heart of Jonathan’s repetitions is, I know, a desire for security, for rootedness (what do you know: he likes sameness and constancy just like I do!). And I can provide that.
I don’t always do it graciously, though. I get frustrated and impatient. God “does not grow tired or weary” – but I definitely do. I wonder how I can be an example of God’s perfect faithfulness when I am so imperfect.
Well, I can be there. I can show up and help make Jonathan’s world as consistent and dependable as possible in an unsettled world. There’s no way to get him “used to” the idea of change or loss or grief; his mind can’t comprehend those mysteries, and to be honest sometimes mine can’t, either. But today I can be there for my kids and show them that love is faithful (if imperfect) presence. Roots.
Maybe I will always feel a mix of the desire for rootedness and the wish to be as free as a little cloud. For now, I know my place: “rooted and established in love” – the love of the always-faithful One.
To read more of Jeannie Prinsen's posts, go to her wonderful blog Little House on the Circle at: