The courage to plant roots

My grandpa could always be found in his garden, which was an exotic oasis full of colours and species waiting to be smelt, seen, touched. It’s no surprise, looking back, that he called each of his grandkids ‘spud’. He would spend his holidays fixing our gardens, often hopping on the plane with the thoughtful gift of a kind of seed or bulb. The careful, attentive, creative task of tending to the earth was something he took to gladly.

Grandpa, in a sense, liked roots – some might say he dug them – get it? #grandpajoke alert. When he passed away last month, we remembered his laugh and his cardigan and his care for our family. Naturally, we remembered his gardening, too. And over the days leading to and after his funeral, when many of his family had come together, it became clear that his love for gardening has caused him to grow a well-rooted family that was flowering even after he passed.

The combination of my grandparents’ sense of adventure and the way they taught their children to care for people and for the things they were taught in the little Gospel Hall they went to every Sunday meant that, for much of their ‘grown-up years’, their four children have lived around the world – in one way, away from their roots. France, Australia, Japan and Switzerland became the Graham family gardens. One generation down looks like a tribe of cousins all over the world – at the time of Grandpa’s passing, we were sending messages back and forth to seven countries.

But as we gathered for Grandpa’s funeral, I noticed the roots coming through. In little things like the way one cousin raised in Japan and Northern Ireland has the exact same craving for a ‘wee cuppa’ as the cousin raised in France (where tea is scarce!) and Scotland. Or in the way some of us tilt our heads and raise our eyebrows when something interests us. In how even our kids have inherited Grandpa’s love for a good book. If you dig a little further, you see the same care for people, the love for good thought, the priority of family, across the generations of Grahams.

And it made me think that really, no matter how far they spread, roots are roots.

If they’re tended with care, they grow – sometimes, much deeper and further than we had anticipated.

And when roots are cared for, they also remain.

This is the tricky one for me. I love exploring, and growing, and experiencing new things. I’ve lived in three different countries and 10 different houses in the last 10 years. I’m currently on a plane to get my first taste of Africa: I’m an adventurer.

Perhaps adventuring, exploring, ‘going’, was what was hard or risky or rare a few decades ago. But – and forgive me if this is not true of you – I think what is hard for our generation is ‘staying’. Our work is in planting our feet, stilling ourselves enough to commit, seeing things through. Our challenge is in digging roots.

Roots in our friendships – finding out who our friends really are and how we can love them well. Or roots at work: getting really good at what we do and seeing things thrive. Or maybe seeing things crash and committing to finding creative solutions. Digging roots in our relationships: proving those poorly-interpreted outdated divorce statistics wrong because we’re the ones who stayed when it was hard and reaped the benefits for years to come. Tending to our towns and cities, seeing them become the places we love to live in. Roots in our communities, enough to see lasting change whether it be in safety or employment or more people using recycling bins. Roots.

Don’t get me wrong: sometimes, in order to plant good roots, we need to uproot: to move on and start new things, to relocate, to change. That takes real courage.

And I’m not going to stop exploring the world. I don’t know if where I am now is where I’ll always be. I’m open. I’m happy that I can set up home in lots of places. I love being bilingual. I love walking through an unknown street into the puzzle of a new culture. I’d love for my kids to feel the same way.

But having done lots of that, I’m focusing my attention on staying. I want to be a slow, careful, thoughtful gardener like my Grandpa Graham. I will consider what I plant – how and when, too – and care for it. I will stay around to see it grow. And I will smile, just as Grandpa did, when I see its fruit – whether its roots are closely laced around what I’ve built or have taken on other forms in new spheres.

See you in the garden, spud.

This piece was written for Threads.

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