The Broken Birch


“Wholeness does not mean perfection; it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life” – Parker J. Palmer

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Spring has come to the world’s most liveable city. You would be forgiven for doubting this. As I write, Melbourne is in the throes of arctic-like weather conditions and it is pouring down gallons of water that are creating havoc across the State. But when you look outside, Mother Nature calms our fear and produces the evidence – Spring is here! My garden is thriving. Amongst the many plants bursting with new life is a tree that stands taller than all the others: a birch with a peculiar story.

When we moved into this house we had many generous people give us plants to help establish this ginormous garden. We also kept our eye on any nursery ‘specials’. We planted a small birch grove because a nursery was shutting down and they were selling birches as part of a ‘super’ special. They also gave us a birch for free. Someone had accidentally broken it whilst moving it to a new spot. It was a quarter of the size of its birch brothers and sisters and frankly, looked miserable.

In hindsight, birches were not the best choice for clay soil, but hindsight is not always helpful. Our birches struggled to establish. They needed extra tender loving care in those hot summer months. Except for the broken birch. We all expected it to die. It did the opposite. Defying birch-law, clay soil, brokenness and the misery of its tribe, it grew and flourished. Within three years it outgrew its birch siblings. Today, it is a magnificent tree that provides shelter to so many other plants. It is easy to forget that this was a broken birch once …

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You see, friend, in life you will face many circumstances and situations that will cut you off at the kneecaps: personal failure, the betrayal of friends, financial hardship, death of a loved one, illness, loneliness, changes – the list goes on. When you walk through these shadowed valleys it may feel like everyone else around you is standing tall, growing and flourishing. Everyone else, but you. You feel broken on the inside and no amount of positive thinking and meditation seems to cure that nagging pain within.

There are many times in life that we are that broken birch. It’s no use trying to tell ourselves some pseudo-narrative to dull the pain. There is no way ‘around’ these valleys. We have to learn to walk through them. Religion that calls you to growth without suffering, without pain, without heartache and without experiencing brokenness is no true religion, but simply a decorated band-aid for grievous wounds. In life you will experience brokenness.

Just like my birch, you may also find yourself planted in places that are less than ideal. Environments that should hamper your growth and well being. But my broken birch tree didn’t seem to take that much notice of that. It grew anyway. The environment was not its defining moment or its core identity. The reflection I take away is that sometimes we simply have to ignore the masses and the circumstances, put our head down and grow anyway. The opinions and ignorance of others does not define you.

In the end, dear friend, only you can live the life given you. And you have been assigned to live it amidst all the ups and downs and ‘accidents’ that come your way. Only you hold the integrity of your narrative. Only you can tell your story. No one else. People may try. They may refer to you as that ‘broken birch’. Don’t argue with them. Smile and wave and get on with your life. And when your inner core and strength overshadows their fear and judgement, show them much kindness …

“The Wound is the Place where the Light enters You” – Rumi

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Laughter: Tonic for the Soul

 

Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common
denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.

— W. H. Auden

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A couple of days ago, I was sitting in my car at the traffic lights, deep in thought and paying very little attention to the world around me.
Suddenly I began to awake from my mindless stupor and noticed that the couple in the car next to me were having a rather animated
conversation, possibly a family feud or a heated disagreement. The
elderly female passenger turned her head my way, threw up her hands, rolled her eyes and uttered a rather choice expletive, one that even my limited lip reading skills could decipher without any difficulty. We then caught each other’s eyes and began to laugh. Two strangers, no language to connect, just a moment of hilarity and laughter that stayed with me through to my destination. Laughter truly is a tonic for the soul.

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Laughter cleans the soul. It has the ability to create an effervescent transformation that is tangible. The pursuit of laughter can dramatically change our lives. Laughter reduces pain, strengthens the immune
function, decreases stress, and triggers creativity. Laughing at ourselves prevents us from becoming serious, intolerable, and very self-important pains in the arse. Did you know that laughter contributes to the lowering of blood pressure, reduces stress hormone levels, improves cardiac health, boosts T cells, triggers the release of endorphins and produces a general sense of well-being? The author of Proverbs suggests that a ‘cheerful or merry’ heart is fabulous medicine (17:22).

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Meaningful relationships are far too important to be taken seriously. Laughter improves communication and builds relationship because everyone laughs in the same language. Children are more receptive when they are having fun. Laughter improves all of our memories,
because we tend to remember what we laughed about. Laughter makes us approachable, removes barriers and smoothes over differences.
Humour is vital in delicate circumstances and provides fantastic cover for shooting sacred cows, like Oscar Wilde drily remarked, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” Of course, humour that is used to intimidate, manipulate, silence or embarrass another person is not really humour, it’s being a jerk.

So, with countless evidence on the benefits of laughter, how can we
introduce more of it into our lives?

– Learn to laugh in the dark and serious times. This is a ‘skill’ I learnt from my parents. They managed to find humour even in the darkest
moments. We found ourselves laughing even at the most inappropriate times, not to be inappropriate, but to cope with life. It is a ‘skill’ now developed in my children. An ‘evil’ sense of humour is one of the great weapons against stress.

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– Learn to laugh at yourself. To my religious friends out there – please don’t become a serious, pious pain in the bum, so that people think that’s what your faith does to you. It’s not meant to do that. Laughter is a choice. Learning to not take
ourselves seriously is tonic for the soul. Serious self-importance really is one of those major relationship killers.

– Watch the kind of comedy shows that make you laugh.

– Tell your face it drastically improves it’s appearance when it smiles. Smiling is so underrated. A smile can literally make someone’s day. It
really is an instant makeover for our skull surface.

PIC BY THOMAS MARENT / ARDEA / CATERS NEWS - (PICTURED: A juvenile Borneo Orangutan in, Tanjung Puting National Park, Indonesia laughing) - These comical creatures are clearly up FUR a laugh in these sidesplitting images which show a variety of ecstatic animals enjoying a good old chuckle. The hilarious snaps, taken by a whole host of photographers from around the globe, prove life in the jungle is most definitely jolly, as creatures from an orangutan to a elephant seal are pictured mid-laugh. A cheery chimpanzee can be seen sporting a toothy grin as he enjoys life at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia. And a pot-bellied pig is clearly tickled pink at his home in Lower Saxony, Germany. In another image an Icelandic horse appears to crack up when he spots a photographers camera, while a chuckling cheetah creases up in Kenya. SEE CATERS COPY
PIC BY THOMAS MARENT
Friend, I wish you much laughter. Life is not always easy. There are many times when we find ourselves trudging through the valley of tears. Even in those sacred moments, may you notice something ridiculous, throw your head back and laugh in the face of your opposition!

“Laughter is poison to fear.”

– George R.R. Martin

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