I took this photo a couple of months ago when I was out with my octogenarian parents. Despite the fact that they are fit and healthy, they walk a bit slower than I’m used to so I got to see things past which I might otherwise have strided.
This tree was one such find. At some point, no doubt when young and malleable, the trunk got tangled somehow and it grew with this perfect twist. It grew. Perfectly well. Perfectly imperfect.

It was there, many years later, sporting its history, reaching up to the sky, waiting for spring to kick start it into abundant life again.

Even at the time I spotted the lesson. Perhaps it was the presence of ageing parents who collectively sport two new hips and a knee replacement – still out walking in the January cold. Or my own scars and (ever increasing number of) wrinkles which look back at me from the mirror every day. Still here. Badges of honour one might say. And for the less visible scars, the hurting, the emotional challenges, the trauma, all of which have shaped me and my family.

A few weeks after I saw this and thought on it, I felt a metaphorical gut punch when I heard that Caroline Flack, a very well known British TV presenter, had taken her own life. I never met her, I barely watched the shows on which she appeared (bar Strictly, I can’t deny that), but she was my vintage and she reminded me of lots of friends I have. Wacky, ebullient yet blindingly vulnerable. The fragility was there for anyone who looked. Unlike the newspapers, I won’t pretend to know the details of what allegedly brought her to such point. But safe to say she was, like every single person on the planet, imperfect and bearing the wounds of the past. And having to bear them under the spotlight of fame and all that comes with it. A tweet by journalist Sathnam Sangara summed it up for me “Everyone is into mental health awareness until it involves dealing with the actual difficult symptoms and behaviours caused by severe mental illness.” I agree. We all seem to be good at talking about mental illness but not that good at dealing with it when we come face-to-face with it. For some reason when I read that tweet through an uncommitted scroll, it spoke to me. And it reminded me of that tree in the woods.

We are, each of us, in our own way imperfect. And yet perfect. Just like everything else in nature. Nature shows us that there is no stencil, no template, no paint by numbers. Nature is messy and all the more joyous for us. Like so many other circumstances, we have become so completely disconnected from nature that we are now largely oblivious to the lessons it provides. We are nature, not apart from it, and so our scars, our imperfections and our stories are not things of which to be ashamed or hidden away. They are what they are. They have made us what we are. That we have survived them and kept growing is a testament to us and what we can do. Not something of which we should be ashamed. We grow forth like the tree in the woods, reaching up, embracing the things that took us to that point even if they do not fit the “norm” or make us seem less than perfect.

Airbrushing out the imperfections is a bit like the feeling you get walking through the gardens of a stately home. Yes, it’s lovely but we all know it’s not the real deal. I give a nod to the twisted tree when I pass. Long may it grow forth in imperfection. And long may we do the same.

“When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”

― Ram Dass