Once I was a tree. A young, tall tree in a nice shady grove. My leaves were soft, bark crisp, and I swayed in the gentle breeze.

People would walk past me and say “Look at that beautiful tree. It will grow big and strong. Nothing can knock it over.”

I was so proud! Among the ancient forest, I stood out. I got praised.

But as I grew I started to notice: I was not like the other trees. My leaves were not the right shape. My branches bent the wrong ways. I was a crooked oak among tall redwoods. It started a rot of doubt in my core. Maybe I wasn’t a good enough tree? Maybe I was the wrong tree?

Seasons changed. A drought suddenly took hold but the groove of redwoods stood strong. Their roots were deep and they reached the water. I got a little too but the rot under my bark refused it to my leaves. And slowly they withered. I started to dry out, suffocating in a lack of water.

When a fire swept over us, I thought it was my end. The others, with thick bark and crowns high above the flames, withstood it. They got a few burns, some got scars, but they were unbending. They had adapted to the harsh environment and could take it.

Me, I crumbled. The few leaves I still had browned and curled. Branches burned and I was left with only a few twigs. In the ground, my roots faltered. When the fire died out I was nothing but a bare trunk. Stripped of my bark and protection. My roots exposed and weak.

I kept trying to grow. I had been beautiful! Strong! Nothing was supposed to knock me over. I used every inch of energy to just grow tall again. I forgot my weakened roots. My rotten core. I forgot everything that had once made me strong, I just wanted to be tall like the others. To fit in.

The flood was what killed me.

I had nothing to hold on to as a river of wild water rushed over the groves. My roots cracked and I fell over into dark waters. It consumed me wholly. Drowned me. I had lacked water. Now I couldn’t escape it.

For a long time, I was at mercy of the currents. I followed wherever they took me. Sometimes the water calmed and I could resurface to breathe but always a storm picked up again and threw me under the great waves.

One day, I washed up on a shore. I was close to nothing. My branches had broken off and my trunk splintered. Within the broken wood, only a tiny acorn was left unscathed. The toughest part of me. The part that held all my reserves for survival.

A bird picked me up and carried me away from the salty shores. It dropped me in a foreign forest.

The trees here looked different. Some were old and bent. Some new and thin. There were tall ones, crooked ones. Some with many leaves and some with few. Some had terrible scars showing that they too had been hit by fires. None looked alike and no one looked like me.

Still they grew and I lay in the cool dirt and looked up at them. Wishing I could grow back but afraid to do so. A gentle spring rain covered me with dew. A few rays of sun peeked down from the leafy canopy. Time passed as I watched them and carefully, I cracked my protected shell. Slowly, I placed a root in the ground beneath me. Finally, I started a tiny sprout.

I’m growing again. I don’t know what tree I am anymore. Perhaps I'm not a tree at all. It’s still too early to say. But I keep pushing my roots down and out. Expanding and growing. Giving myself strength. Whenever I find another root I stay close to it. If I can, if I'm allowed, I curl around it and hold tight. Just like a pinky-swear, barely touching yet firmly gripping, in a promise to stay together.

Though I’m still a frail branch with tiny leaves, I can feel my roots are getting hold. Often I sit in the shade, but I have sunny days and I soak those to me and store them in my leaves. There are many other trees around me, and some, like me, are partly in shade. Some sit completely in the dark while others stand strong in full daylight.

Whenever I can, I share the sunlight I receive. To all those roots I have connected to, to all those bushed, trees, and little weeds that I see hiding in the darkness. I try to reach out and give them a little nudge upwards. I don't know if I reach everyone. Some might just ignore me, or think that I waste my energy sharing it with others. But some, many, hear me. They take the light I share and they give it back to me many-fold. And through that, I grow.

On rainy days, when water floods over my roots all those trees help soak up the water so I don’t drown. The ones with big, strong branches cover me and help my leaves stay dry. In the diverse forest I stay strong, because of their strength.

We've intertwined our roots, so the floods don’t wash us away. We sway together in the mighty storms and lean upon each other’s trunk and branches. We've created a network of strength in which we all continue to grow. Together.

So I don't know if I'll grow up to be a tree or a flower or something else. I don't know how many more branches I'll break, or how many more floods and rainstorms I must endure. I just know that the forest around me gives me the strength to keep growing.

So I give whatever strength I can spare back to it.

I fell alone, but I want to grow together.