Just before my glorious weekend out of town, I started reading From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Arthur C. Brooks. Why pick this one up? I can’t possibly even BE in the “second half of life” since I’m clearly far too young, but alas…I am…chokes…nearly fifty years old. And I am already starting my “retirement,” so I think I qualify.

And now I hear you asking, “Retiring from what, Michelle? You haven’t had a career or even a job in nearly twenty years!” I may not have worked outside my home, but I have been a housewife AND homeschooling mom and since my boys are finally (mostly) out of the nest, “Hello, Retirement!”

Let me tell you, it is a big shift. One I didn’t even realize was starting or would hit me this hard. Retirement is rough, especially if you’re a driven kind of person and you fully enjoy your career.

I found myself asking, “What’s next?! Is life over? Does retirement mean sitting here, reading a book until I die?” And then running around screaming and crying from time to time, much to the dismay of my poor husband who is NOT retired and works from home.

I’ve been doing some serious soul searching the last few years, and this book is only another chapter of that story, some research into another point of view. I decided to order it after I read one of Arthur C. Brooks other books, Love Your Enemies.

This morning I read this:

“The aspen tree, it turns out, is not a solitary majesty, as I learned by sheer coincidence later that day from a friend who knows more about trees than I do. He explained to me that each “individual” tree forms part of an enormous root system. In fact, the aspen is the largest living organism in the world; one stand of aspens in Utah called “Pando” spans 106 acres and weighs 6 million kilograms.

That “lone” aspen I was looking at was no such thing. It was simply one shoot up from a vast root system – one expression among many of the same plant.”

from strength to strength

I made a mark there in the book, a bracket around the paragraph and a small heart. I need to remember this picture, I thought.

Then I started thinking back to yesterday, when I met my sons for dinner out and spent over an hour talking about college classes, work, surfing, and philosophy, over some amazing tacos. We somehow got onto the idea of Buddhist enlightenment, when my eldest reminded me of the one drop in the ocean idea, where we discover we are everything and everything is us, a part of the whole and the whole at the same time. Once we realize it, we see ourselves in everything. My youngest chimes in with “Like a bubble popping. You float along, realize you are the whole and pop, you’re gone, dissipated and there but not there.” We stopped and thought about. Yeah. Nice.

This morning, on the way back from coffee with a local friend, I stopped at the post office to pick up a package. Waiting in line, I looked around me. The woman in front of me smiled and set down her package on the counter. We laughed together at the face the woman behind us made at having to lick an envelope. And it hit me: these are other aspen trees.

I smiled slightly, internalizing the moment of realizing that I AM connected to these seemingly disconnected people. My reaction to them changes them and theirs changes me.

We may look like we’re each a standing “lone” tree in this world, but we certainly are not. Like those aspens groves, beneath the ground our roots are all one system. Each of us has an affect on the other. When one falls, another grows taller. When one sways, the others sway with it.

Here’s what he says on the next page:

“The secret to bearing my decline – no, enjoying it – is to be more conscious of the roots linking me to others. If I am connected to others in love, my decrease will be more than offset by increases in others – which is to say, increases in other facets of my true self.”

My extended family, my friends, and those I connect with online and in person every day are what make life and death beautiful. Those connections, that love, lasts forever in the roots beneath the soil.