When I was a sophomore in high school, I read “Sojourner” by Annie Dillard. It's also critical to this article to note that I was exceptionally headstrong in my sophomore year of high school, so much so that I fought against everything I heard just because I could. So when I read Dillard's essay, I couldn’t move past her idea that we are all mangrove trees, floating and unmoored.
I wrote so passionately against this concept, claiming that I was not a mangrove tree, that I was rooted in myself and what I believed in. To exactly quote myself circa 2014, “I am not a mangrove, despite whatever metaphors Dillard uses. I do not drift or float through life like those oasis trees; I’m firmly rooted and assured in everything I have and say and do.”
This year, I realized that my claims aligned more with what Dillard claimed than I had always thought: mangrove trees are rooted within themselves and their own island. The key thing that I missed understanding is just as they are each adrift on their own individual island, so are we all. More simply put, it has taken me four years to understand the accuracy of Dillard’s metaphor. As I’ve come to realize about the majority of texts I read in high school, it hit me that I read “Sojourner” much too young. I read it at an age when I wore Uggs with leggings and an oversized sweatshirt and thought I was fashionable; I read it at an age when I knew nothing about the world and even less about myself and was asked to reflect on how I saw both within the text.
I was sitting in a study room this past semester, restless and uneasy over this odd melancholic feeling I hadn’t been able to shake all day. As the evening settled on my view of the Atlanta skyline (very poetically, I’ll admit), I suddenly thought of the mangrove trees. More importantly, I realized how relevant Dillard's words had become in my life: I am now settled into a place where I accept myself and my place in the universe as ever-changing and expanding. I don’t know the Me from two years ago, let alone the Me from sophomore year of high school; I don’t have a single clue who I’ll become in ten years time. Just like a mangrove tree, I am adrift in the world.
But there was another critical element to Dillard's metaphor that I finally understand: we're never truly alone. Just as there will always be other mangrove trees drifting alongside one another, just as there will always be new trees growing on to each island as the seeds spread, just as there will always be trees who bump in just the right way that their roots entwine, so too will there be friends and loved ones sailing around our islands, becoming one with our lives.
Each individual is onto themselves their own body of land, expanding or shrinking or sinking or changing. It is always the one mangrove tree broken from the larger shore that is left to expand or wither away on its own, but not any more so than how we see ourselves as the protagonists and narrators of our own lives.
In growing up, so many gain a more pessimistic outlook on the world around us and the lives we live. If the younger me still needs something to stand against, it should be that. Growth and change are not the enemies: as Dillard herself states,
"A mangrove island turns drift to dance. It creates its own soil as it goes rocking over the salt sea at random, rocking day and night and round the sun, rocking round the sun and out toward east of Hercules."
Everyone could be going absolutely anywhere in this universe as we move and grow and change, but at least we're going somewhere; at least we're not going alone.