By: Lauren Anderson
One of my best friends Hannah (who happens to love plants), told me a story about the Mangrove Tree. Or Trees I should say, because they almost never grow alone. Mangroves are a special type of tree that grow on the shorelines (and sometimes in the actual salt water) of tropical climates.
By some sure act of will, evolution, and grand design they survive in these harsh and salty conditions. Where most other trees would perish, these collection of trees thrive. And their survival is important because spots where Mangrove trees grow boast more than 60 percent more sea life than others. It’s not just a tree, it’s practically an ecosystem.
In order to survive the harsh salinity of the water, Mangrove roots can filter out about 90 percent of the salt inside it. But their bark would taste salty if you licked it. They hoard freshwater in their waxy and hairy succulent leaves, and they even have some tiny tube-like roots that stick up out of the water to help them breathe.
Fascinating right?! When Hannah told me about this tree, I could feel myself falling in love.
But there’s more. My favorite fact about the Mangrove is that sometimes they get overwhelmed. And when the salt water becomes too much for the plant to bear, instead of dying, it will funnel the extra alkali into a leaf–or branch, depending on how much there is– and allow that leaf or branch to turn brown and fall off.
So the tree can survive.
* * *
It’s been two years since my brother died. Today is his birthday.
I miss him everyday, but some days more than others. November is especially fraught because he died in November (the 18th), 10 days before his birthday (the 28th). It’s weird to think it’s already been two years, and it’s weird to think it’s only been two years. Grief is strange and can be overwhelming. Most of the time it’s just hard.
* * *
When my brother died, the two streaks of hair at my temple went white. It happened so fast, I feel like I fell asleep one night and woke up with white hair the next day. When I told my plant-loving friend about the white streaks, that’s when they told me the story of the Mangrove Tree.
Hannah looked at my hair and said, “I think you Mangrove-d yourself.”
I laughed because they had a point. His death was so painful, that my body became overwhelmed. And instead of hurting itself beyond repair, my body channeled some trauma to my hair, so I could survive.
It’s been two years, and I haven’t had the heart to dye these two streaks.
Because I don’t want to. It’s strange, but I have this odd sense of pride about my streaks. Because the streaks in my hair feel like a way to know how deeply I loved my brother. But it also feels like a way to know how deeply my body loves me.
Let me explain… So often, I am so hard on my body. I feel angry or betrayed that it doesn’t look or operate in the way I want it to. I am upset when it hurts or when it ages. Anyone else?
Working out at Solcana, and taking the Essential You nutrition classes have started me down the path to loving my body more than ever before, truly and deeply. But the white streaks? That’s like proof. Proof that my body loves me too, and it’s trying everything it can to keep me upright and alive.
All these years I’ve been looking for a way to love my body. I wanted a sign that my body loved me back. And now here they are, in two white streaks at my temple. The first thing I see when I look in the mirror. It’s also one of the first things people see when they look at me.
By rocking my streaks, I’m walking around telling the world in no uncertain terms, that my body loves me so much that it will kill off one of it’s own branches to keep me functioning.
My body Mangrove-d itself, in a defiant act of love.
AND IT’S A TOTAL REFRAME. All these years I’ve been in a battle with my body. I thought my body was the opponent, but the white streaks just proved that we’re on the same side.
We’re in this together. And like the Mangrove, my body recognizes it lives in a harsh and salty environment, but we carry on because we have an ecosystem to support dammit!
* * *
I feel like I Mangrove myself every time I step into the gym. I take all the stuff, you know, the shitty things people say, job stress, the fear about the state of our country, the overwhelming sadness sometimes, the pain– and channel it.
I Mangrove that energy into lifting weights, or throwing wall balls, or rowing to nowhere on the machines. And when I’m done, I feel better. I feel stronger. And I can feel my body thanking me.
My body gave me white streaks, and I give it the gym.
* * *
Two years after my brother died, two years after I Mangrove-d myself (and yes, I will be using it as a verb from now on), I wanted to do something to honor my brother, and this huge lesson that I’ve learned.
So I went to the salon, and spent a bajillion dollars getting a fancy hair cut and a Balayage. That’s a french word meaning “hand-painted” and I guess it’s the en vogue way to color hair nowadays.
But instead of covering up my streaks, I thought I would paint the rest of my hair white to match. I told her to take special care not to dye my two streaks. I told her about the Mangrove Trees. I could tell she fell in love with them just like I did when Hannah told me. I asked her to honor the streaks, and use them as a jumping off point.
And when I told her why, she teared up. And then she said, “This will be so rad.”
And voila. New hair. New tree.
The indoor pictures and warm light don’t do it justice… but it’s a cool white, and I feel like a very subtle super hero. A daytime witch.
A sister who loves and misses her brother very much, and needed a way to express it on a hard anniversary.
And a person who finally understands that her body loves her, and who is determined to start loving it back.