In his enjoyable, informative little book, The Hidden Forest (given to me by my dear friend George), Jon Luoma writes the following:
“[F]orest ecosystems are as much about disturbance as they are about stability… the rich, even explosive diversity of life in a forest landscape often relies on what can seem like catastrophe to the human eye, or human spirit… [M]any kinds of ecosystems can only be reinvigorated and renewed when visited by a major disturbance.” (p. 130)
Some wetlands must endure drought so their aquatic species can germinate, despite the transient devastation such dry spells bring to local wildlife. Some old-growth trees must fall, taking with them everything in their way, creating vast swaths of loss in the forest. But in doing so, they open up the woodland to the necessary sunshine and space where saplings grow and flourish. Some forests must experience blazing fires that consume their accumulated debris and burst open the cones that release the seeds that will repopulate their aging timber.
I believe this is true for people as well.
Sometimes we grow stale, in ourselves and in our relationships. We fill up too much of our own space, are too set in our ways, take too much for granted to let in new light, new air, new life. So we slowly age, without anyone quite noticing the frozenness, the stagnation, even the decay that settles in. We slowly stop inspiring and stop nurturing the necessary change that we all need, in ourselves and those we love. Growth and vibrancy no longer stir.
It can happen in our work; it can happen in a friendship; it can happen in love. Reliable for and proud of our constancy, we fail to see that what we take for stability is easing into lethargy, and so our roots begin to rot and lose their hold on the land.
Then, a surprising, though perhaps threatening, gift comes our way: a disturbance so powerful that it ignites but does not consume us; that challenges but does not destroy us; that blows us down but does not break us up. It may be an illness, the loss of a job, or a natural disaster that upsets the way we have carefully constructed our lives. It may be a temptation, a dalliance or an unbidden love that pulls the rug out from under our feet.
No matter what, we are thrown for a loop. Our world becomes topsy-turvy.
But miraculously, what seems in the moment like a disturbance bringing destruction in its wake turns into an opportunity for much-needed renewal. We may never have sought it, never have asked for it, never even wanted it. But it is here nonetheless, and it is a gift.
And this happens not only in our personal lives, but in the lives of businesses, organizations, and nations as well. Upheaval and disturbance can be as necessary a part of life as security and protection. Remembering that may help us all get through the hard times.