Saturday, August 20, 2011
Growing into the Light
My brother Mark and I were walking into a building together when I noticed the row of neatly symmetrical deciduous trees lining the sidewalk. Their unfamiliar tissuey pink flowers, more suited to spring than the hot August day, caught my eye first. The tremendous leaning of the trees toward the parking lot and away from the wall—like ladies in a row looking out together for the bus up the street—stopped us both.
"Do you know why plants lean toward the light?" Mark asked.
My mind immediately went to my elementary school answer. But I know my brother, who used to teach high school science. This was a trick question if ever I heard one.
"Isn't it to reach the sunlight? For photosynthesis?" I answered. "Is there more to it than that?"
And it turns out the answer is yes, to both questions.
I've taught kids for years that plants need light for photosynthesis. It was a relief to know I hadn't somehow been teaching the wrong thing. There is, however, another process called phototropism in which cell growth occurs on the shaded side of leaves, pushing the plant toward the light.
As I marveled at the fact that growth was happening in the shadows, which seems so counter-intuitive, Mark tossed out, "Yup. Growth requires darkness. Life requires light."
We both recognized the power of those words the minute they left his mouth. My brother is experiencing his own time of shadows and intense growth. I'm not sure which of us needed his message more.
Growth happens in the darkness. Growth that nudges a plant toward the source of life. Toward warmth and light that provide nutrition and strength which in turn creates more of the hormone triggering more growth in the shadows.
We're finally having the summer that usually happens in July, or at least much earlier in August. It's hot and sunny. Bright air is full of life-giving light. My life right now feels much like the dark side of those trees. Shadowed with so much inner growth it's nearly impossible to find a comfortable way to be. As the cells on the backs of my inner leaves stretch and expand beyond their previously comfortable walls, I find myself leaning. Off-balance. Seeking the lush light of summer that seems just beyond my reach.
This design offers me much comfort in these days of my return to public education. It gives purpose to the shadows that lurk at every turn, and reminds me that only good can come from what now feels not-so-good. The sun meets my upturned face with a radiance that fills me with all I need to nourish a full flowering, driven by the growth of these dark days.
After our day together, I asked Mark to write about this same experience. He told me this morning that he had (I love it when my brothers listen to me!), but I didn't read his post until after I'd written this. I encourage you to read his story. His explanation of the science exceeds my elementary understanding. His wisdom and heart shine bright in every word.