By Ali Valdez
For a long time, I have carried a theory around in the back on my mind: however you played as a child is what you will do best in life later. For example, one of my favorite childhood games was pretending to be a teacher. Today when I am mentoring students or clients, I cross my pointer fingers and refer to this as the ‘axis of play’. Those seeds, planted long-ago, began bearing robust new shoots as I found myself pleasantly surprised by a blast from the past waiting for me at the threshold of the Vale in Chelsea.
Recently, I had the pleasure of being reintroduced to an old friend from those days of axis of play. She had moved the weeks prior from Manhattan to London, serendipitously aligning with this complicated itinerary I piecemealed together to be thrifty and simultaneously adventurous. This was a short ‘mind the gap’ sort of distance compared to the many decades and thousands of miles away from our mutual desert days in Tucson, Arizona.
Back in her time, she was a new friend next door to a little girl going through the anxiety of her parents’ divorce, moving from her house surrounded in a neighborhood of uncles, aunts, and grandparents to a small apartment in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Fast forward thirty three years without seeing or speaking to the one person who was there for me in my darkest hour, I got to meet her again, reminded of my own axis.
In today’s transient and unrooted populace of latch-key kids, virtual chat rooms and rollercoaster careers, how many of us still get face time interacting thirty-three years later with the gal who helped twist your Barbie’s heads back on, while sharing an eighties chrome and caned chair to help you blow out your birthday candles?
Some things never change. I still looked to her as a pillar of determined conviction, massively brilliant, opinionated and uncensored. We both shared the highs and lows of mothering internationally minded young girls. We both shared a love of reading and an aspiration to write. Both of us are in the midst of start-up hang ups, laundry lists of all things that simply cannot be done in a day over cups of coffee cranked out by an overly-utilized Nescafe cappuccino machine.
Friendships can run their course; people grow apart naturally, mutual interests fade. Our current society encourages detachment while at the same time bolsters and accelerates it through the artificial means of text messaging and video-cams. Some of us are lucky when these technologies bring about an in-person intersection, but by no means can anything really be the same because, of course, over time, everything in essence has changed.
Imagine your life represented by a tree. This was an analogy used during an offsite I participated in with an incredible group of people: corporate yogis, if you will. The roots represent your core essence, ingrained value coding from childhood: all the deep seeded things you are not even aware you do, your primal motivations, etc. The trunk is how you are growing up and emerging into the world.
From there we have branches, all the different offshoots of life experiences; we continue splintering off from there, shaped by people we meet, skills we have acquired, lessons learned, ways in which we have been re-imagined and reverse engineered.
The tree is free to grow and expand as it sees fits, but the roots are the things keeping it in the ground. Branches and blossoms aside, the roots, well they remain unchanged, maybe just digging into the ground deeper, becoming harder and thicker as time passes by.
If one of your branches represented your professional life, then the friends you met, the types of day to day activities shaping your days, and the results of your work hanging heavy off the edges of branches like fruit. From that vantage point, you can look around and see tentacles of branches, loads of leaves, even fruit but lose sight that you are more than the sum of the offshoot from the trunk.
Five days with my friend reminded me who I was down at the roots; it was nice to begin my stories from that starting point and be tacitly understood. This was later expounded upon with my corporate yogis during our group meditation. I am a walking axis, the keeper of four root systems; they influence just how far my branches will sway when the wind comes. Branches may break, but the roots keep one in place.
When you are with someone who saw how you were first shaped, has co-lived the back story of your youth, they see the foundation of the building before the embellishments and crowning achievements of architecture are added on. Those people saw the cracks. They know where the floor isn’t perfectly level. They can look up at a building comprising a hundred stories (literally and figuratively) and still know you intimately where the shadows still linger at street level.
Who in your life can see you without being blinded by the glare of your high rise cast against the shimmering skyline? Who witnessed the first part of your trunk rise, observing your potential before you did? If you lost them in the shuffle of life but are fortunate enough to find them again, if only for a passing window in time, remember to take a moment, to hold them close and say, ‘thank you’.