To be rooted is perhaps the most important
and least recognised need of the human soul.
Simone Weil in ‘The Need for Roots’
The start of the academic year means a new beginning in many ways: new faces, new subjects, new responsibilities, and hence an opportunity to find new habits and routines. This being my second full year at Marlborough College, however, the beginning of the year has also meant a certain continuity: familiar faces, catching up with friends and colleagues, and of course in many cases continuing where we left off academically.
The first few weeks, months, or even years in some cases, are difficult in any place, whether it’s a new place of work, study, or residence. It can be daunting to get to know new people and find yourself in unfamiliar places. Yet, it is also an opportunity to learn a lot about yourself: what and who really matter to you; what you value in friendships in particular, and in life in general. When I moved to Berlin in 2010, I was surprised how many of my ‘old’ habits came back rather quickly – including finding a Church community to which to belong.
So, being uprooted is challenging, but rewarding and sometimes necessary. Although sometime garden imagery can be overused, some changes are maybe not unlike a plant that has grown too big for its pot. Especially pupils in education are often ready to leave their primary or prep school towards the end of their time there to move on to a next stage in their life. It doesn’t mean that they were unhappy in their old school, but at some point the time comes to leave.
Of course, this is not only true in education, but also in many careers, and possibly for some people in life in general: sometimes change, uprooting, is healthy and necessary, although it often comes with challenge and grief for what must be left behind. However, uprooting does not mean cutting off our roots. Whereas branches need to be pruned, roots need to be grown and nurtured: there is a difference. Especially when we find ourselves planted in dry soil or heavily-dug soil, we will need to rely on our roots: we will need them and some patience (!) to be able to flourish when the time is right.
Just like keeping a garden, living a worthwhile life can be hard work: we need to dig deep at times and be able to wait seemingly forever before we see the fruits of our labour. But also, there are times when we can be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and the reward of our labour and patience.
And maybe that has struck me most after coming back after the long summer break: that actually more flowers have sprung up than I thought I had planted bulbs. Whereas I was prepared for another round of hard work (and I am sure it will come), I was surprised by the pleasure of coming back to a place that now feels more familiar than it has done.
Maybe the most challenging aspect of this whole process is finding out which are our branches that need to be pruned, and which are the roots that need to be nurtured. That is what I will certainly be pondering over the next few weeks: what is it that I need to let go, and where is it that I need to stay?