You could be forgiven, given the title of this piece and the fact that I have previously made mention of my interest in genealogy, for thinking that I am going to be writing about mental health/illness and any history I have found of it within my family tree.
But actually you would be quite wrong. (Sorry for any misunderstanding that may have occurred) Actually I am less concerned, within this piece, about the past than I am about the future.
So where does the family tree part come in? Well let me introduce you to it – you will probably be very familiar with it already – just not aware that it is my family tree.
Firstly even it’s latin name is believed to be based on a mistake and I have to say that I love that. The word ‘Salix’ simply means willow. The word babylonica is a reference to Psalm 137 and verses 1 & 2 which in the King James Version reads…
1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
2 We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
Later the trees mentioned were changed to ‘poplars’ as it was realized that, whilst willows are mentioned in numerous places within the bible, what appeared to be willow trees in that particular context weren’t actually willow trees. Hm. Assumptions being made, appearances being deceptive. Does this remind you of other times when this happens? For example when mental illness is mentioned perhaps?
Their are over 325 members of the ‘willow’ family and yet the weeping willow is unique. How many of us who suffer from mental illness are part of a large family but are somehow uniquely different in part because of our mental health?
For some strength, in respect fo trees, is represented by the ‘mighty’ oak or the ‘great’ redwood for example. But consider if you will the supple flexibility of the willow. I am mindful of a quote from Bruce Lee who said…
Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.
This is a great lesson to remember and one that can be of great importance when taught to our children.
My mental health has brought me many things and in some ways great strength. But I tell you this, if my mental health has brought me any strength at all it has been in how it has taught me to bend and not to break in response to that which I face in life.
The weeping willow can grow up to around 70 feet in height and can have a spread a wide as the tree is tall.
In truth, (and yes I know this flies in the face of society’s ever present – you have to climb to the top and step on anyone you need to in order to get there -message) I care little about how high I can rise above my fellow man, but I care greatly about how high I can rise above that which seeks to hold me down and I care even more greatly about how many I can reach out to in the process.
The weeping willow in some countries such as Turkey and China is associated with profound grief and yet to others represents tranquility and elegance. Does not or mental health often reflect those two extremes?
The weeping willow gets its name from its catching the rain which then moves along it narrow drooping branches and leaves giving the impression that it is crying. For me personally, it is the one tree above all others which reflects splendour and elegance even in the act of weeping. And weeping, at least for the sadness and sorrow of others, is something I know so well and something which I am convinced has come to me as a result of my mental health,
So yes for me the Weeping Willow is without my family tree and one which so clearly makes me remember that my mental health whilst often so tragic and painful always presents me with such beauty and elegance and such a wonderful perspective on life.
And above all of this, the weeping willow is my favourite tree and the one tree which helps me try to approach my mental health in a positive way by remembering that it (my mental health is a part of me and therefore very much a part of my faith.
In my eyes it is stong in its flexibility, never to proud to cry for itself or for others, and ever climbing heavenward but doing all this whilst always remembering to reach out to others and whilst doing so to bend and yield in humility to and worship of the creator and Father of us all.
And that is the picture and the lessons of the weeping willow that I hope I pray I will never lose sight of and never fail to teach my children.