“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul” (Simone Weil).
ALL OF US HAVE ROOTS, BUT NOT ALL OF US APPRECIATE THEM. Behind us lie many antecedents and ancestors. When we were born into the world, we were born into the midst of a unique set of circumstances, and there were even older circumstances that preceded the ones that we were born into. But few of us have bothered to learn about the people and the events that preceded us. And to the extent that we do know about these things, we are often unappreciative of them — as if we would have preferred to have different roots.
But there is another way in which we use the word “roots,” and that is in reference to the depth of our character. When a person has learned the enduring principles that have proven their value over many centuries, we say that his or her character is solidly “rooted.” Compared to others, that person will be better able to withstand the difficulties of life. So, in this sense, each of us needs to be putting down new roots. We need to ground our character more deeply in the lasting truths of life and, beyond that, in the eternal verities.
George Herbert said, “Storms make the oak grow deeper roots.” If we haven’t already sunk our roots deeply into the soil of life, it may be that some crisis will force us to do so. And if storms make us grow deeper roots, then storms serve a useful purpose in our lives.
But if roots are important to us as adults, they are no less important to our children. In the often-remembered words of Hodding Carter, Jr., “There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings.” As parents, most of us work mightily to give our children “wings,” and that is as it should be. It would be well, however, if we also gave them “roots.” Without roots, our children will be cut off from their heritage, not knowing the people who came before them in the chain of generations or the sequence of events through which things came to be as they are now. The “weather” of the world can be perilous, to say the least. So let’s give serious thought to our roots — and also the roots of our children.
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
(J. R. R. Tolkien)