Would you sympathize?
Could you sympathize?
I'm jumbled up
Maybe I'm losing my touch
I'm jumbled up
Maybe I'm losing my touch
But you know I didn't have it anyway"
---from the Echo and the Bunnymen song "Rescue"
Once we drove from Carlsbad, New Mexico, through Cloudcroft to Alamagordo. We passed through the yucca-filled desert, up to the deep forests above. We stopped at the National Solar Observatory and looked into the eyes of the sun, discovering, as the old Springsteen song says, that's where the fun is.
On the other side of the thick woods, we passed through a curious area of slightly arid apple tree fields. Then we began to see the desert willow. The desert willow looks like a good, old-fashioned wetlands and owls willow tree. But it lives in heavy sun in much more arid environments.
When I bought my first home, in Mesquite, Texas, the builder (in addition to putting some odd thing called "flashing" in one place where roofing was to be, causing the most intriguing water seepage) planted an ordinary willow tree in my sun-drenched, clay-soil front yard. The willow deserved deep drenching to simulate the creek bottom in which it should have been planted. Instead, I only gave it ordinary watering. All my flower seeds sprouted into gorgeous flowers. My willow tree died.
My plant book says that a high-sun, low-water area deserves the desert willow, not the "regular" willow. I was pretty impressionable at 25, and did not think to negotiate my tree species. I am amazed that I purchased a home at all at that age, an expedient largely possible through moving to an inexpensive suburb. I did not mind that it was a suburb of "ordinary folk", because all my life I have found myself feeling no more at home among "extraordinary folk" than among "ordinary folk". I am something of a folk without portfolio.
I wonder, tonight, just what sort of willow I am. I seem to have withstood a fair bit of clay soil. Might I have done better to plant myself in some fertile wetland? Perhaps the humid ferment of a college campus, or the day to day sainthood of a public school would have rooted me better. How would my life be different? I would have less money and more time. But would I have thrived in some academic environment, or merely lost my leaves?
I think that a certain advantage accrues, though, from my own self-image--that of being slightly, but only slightly, out of place in almost any social setting. I think that not fitting in, but missing the mark only by inches, has huge advantages.
Peer pressure? Not so much. I'm never considered anyone's peer. Exclusive? Never. I'm not part of any social set from which to exclude anyone. I'm the sort of willow that one passes on the roadway and says "how the heck does that grow there?".
In Alamogordo, they have tall, desert mountains. From atop those mountains, hang gliders launch themselves into dry, clear air. They float up there, as if they belong there. But they don't, really. It's just a passage. They belong on the ground. Gravity takes them there. I'd no more hang glide than I would build a helicopter out of a washing machine (like that cool guy in the Weekly Reader did when I was in grade school). But I know that feeling of floating up there, in gusts of wind, out of my element, feeling a bit of thrill, but knowing that I don't really belong in mid-air.
I remember once playing a college chess match against Stan, a nice fellow whose father was some kind of music professor. Stan was a better player than I was, but our game was very close indeed. I remember stepping down the hall when the game was at its most tense, close point. I looked into the mirror, and said to myself: "this!, this!, is why I play this game", because the sheer thrill of the position filled me with excitement. But my position was lost. My leaves had all fallen out, and all that was left was the moves while the trunk rotted. I wonder if I would have felt at home if I'd chosen a different life. I think that "home" for me probably means feeling the way I feel now, all the time. It's not a feeling, exactly, of being a hale, hearty tree, but the feeling instead of growing in soil which does not quite suit me. In the biblical parable, the seeds which fall in the wrong soil always go astray. But how much more Grace would have arisen had the seeds grown despite being planted all wrong. I think that the simplest prayer might be "I know I'm planted all wrong, but let me provide a little shade anyway".