Dr Dale Peterson, Personal growth, courage,

Growing Pains

Growing Pains

© 2000 Dr. Dale Peterson; © 2006 Wellness Clubs of America.com

It rained recently. Not a gentle rain but an intense downpour, the likes of which I had not seen in central Oklahoma in many years. Water came down not in drops, but in solid ribbons so that objects just a few feet away were obscured as though partially hidden by a series of shimmering sheer curtains.

I surveyed the yard on the following day. Since no winds had accompanied the rain no branches had been lost. The lawn was free of debris. The pets had weathered the storm and were in their usual high spirits. All appeared well with the world.

As I was about to return to the house I happened to glance up. There atop a silver maple tree was a lone branch extending toward the sky. It had obviously taken the brunt of the driving rain. Many of its leaves had been stripped away. A tuft of leaves remained at the tip, giving it the appearance of a freshly groomed poodle’s tail.

That slender shoot, waving gently in the breeze, struck me as a metaphor of what it means to grow – to spread one’s horizons. If that branch were not reaching for the stars the tree would no longer be growing taller, no longer expanding the area encompassed by its shade.

The branch benefits from being on the leading edge. It is the first to receive the sunshine in the morning and the last to be darkened at night. It moves freely in the breeze without bumping into other branches. It is guaranteed to receive moisture from the lightest shower.

As the recent storm showed, however, there are some distinct drawbacks to being out in front. It is battered by the changing winds. If it were not for its flexibility it would be broken off in an instant. It is going to be assaulted from time to time and yes, as the rain proved, it is occasionally going to be hurt.

As I reflected on that thin shaft supporting the few remaining leaves I asked myself, “Would I rather be like that branch – growing, reaching new heights, experiencing the sunshine and the rain, taking on the storms of life – or would I rather be like one of the central branches, experiencing relative safety within the surrounding foliage?” It is a question each of us should ask.

Growth, it seems, is an indicator of youthfulness. My friend, Lloyd McCullough, one of the youngest people I know, is fond of asking the question, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” Think about it for a minute. How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? The extent to which you have grown over the past year is a good barometer of your functional age.

Growth requires courage. In his book, “Man’s Search for Himself,” Rollo May makes an astute observation. “The opposite of courage today is not cowardice,” he writes, “but conformity.” Going along with the crowd is nearly always the easy way. It is rarely the bravest.

I see examples of courage on a regular basis. The young person who refuses to give into peer pressure to try tobacco, alcohol, or drugs. The young man or young woman who chooses abstinence over condoms or contraception in a society bent on promoting the joys of promiscuity. The individual faced with a chronic or life threatening disease who says, “I will not accept the prognosis given to me by medical statisticians. I will find a way to control this disease rather than letting this disease control me. I will live my life to the fullest and if I am going to go down I will go down fighting!”

Growth requires flexibility. It demands that one keep an open mind. I firmly believe that an open mind is the greatest asset each of us has in our possession. The person who has mastered the mysteries of the universe and has all the answers is an individual who has ceased to grow. He or she is a representation of the old proverb, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!”

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? The answer to that question depends a great deal upon how open you are to new concepts and how quickly you are able to adapt to the changes that come across your path. An old proverb says it well: Change is inevitable – growth is optional. May you opt for growth and remain forever young!

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