Honoring Sacrifice in Nature & Our Lives

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Along our travels, we’ve come across many mangrove trees. We have adventured deep into the thick of them, their twists reaching and expanding. The red mangrove trees are strong and skinny branches that run in myriad directions. They are an important part of ecosystems because they serve as water filters and prevent erosion. Sailors often use the branches of mangrove trees  - that run deep below the surface and into the earth - as a place to tie off their sailboats knowing that mangroves have survived through ages of storms and violent winds. 

But I think the most beautiful part of a red mangrove tree is a scientific but poetic fact about the species: they are salt excluders. While surrounded by salt water, they desire for salt to be kept out of their systems. For survival, the mangroves have what is called a sacrificial leaf. Any salt that does make its way into its system is pushed to the sacrificial leaves where that leaf, when full to the brim of salt, turns yellow, falls off and dies in order to save the rest of the system.

When I remember our time leading up to leaving the dock, I think of everything that we went through that required a metaphorical sacrificial leaf in order to achieve our overall dreams. 

There were things he imagined would happen and things I imagined would happen. Those things didn’t happen. There were realities that both of us had a difficult time accepting. There were objects that I had spent time and money investing in that weren’t reasonable on a boat, that I had to give away or sell (when I wasn’t ready to) or that broke the first time we went out sailing in rough seas. There is time spent away from loved ones that both of us will never get back. 

We had to ask ourselves questions. Questions that we often run into throughout life: 

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What is more important? The entire dream or this specific thing you’re hung up on? 

The love, the bond of the partnership or this specific thing you’re hung up on?

Why is the dream important? 

Why is this person important? 

What matters here? 

What will matter here years from now? What will remain?

These moments, these conversations were not easy. I imagined how the mangrove feels selecting its sacrificial leaf, having to decide what has to go in order for all else to survive. 

In sailing, capacity reveals how much a boat can handle. A boat captain should never take an overloaded boat - either with people or with gear - on the water because it will swamp or capsize. 

As living beings, we too have capacities: how much we can hold, carry around, take on while still staying afloat as happy, functioning, joyful human beings. 

When a boat hits their capacity, when the mangrove intakes too much salt, when a human spirit is taking on too much to hold, everything and everyone is in danger. The boat starts to capsize, the mangrove starts to wither and the person starts to withdrawal. It is nature; a natural process and system to keep us safe, thriving and loved. 

You still have to pause, however, and honor the sacrificial leaf, both in nature and in life. You have to pause and honor the person doing the sacrificing. Something was, in fact, lost and there is no saying that one sacrifice is “more worthy” than another. Sacrifice is sacrifice. The salt stings. The loss reverberates. The fall is not something you feel just once. 

Recognizing and honoring the sacrificial leaf and the good it did for the whole helps to heal the heart. Knowing that human hearts are not the only living species to sacrifice relieves the sting. We are one with nature experiencing similar processes and systems. 

Love wins. It is in love and in nature that we sacrifice, and it is in love and in nature that we heal. 

Today as I passed the mangroves, I honored the sacrificial leaves of their own and our own. I noticed and I felt it as I pushed my bicycle by its twists and turns of branches. My boyfriend looked over, hand extended, ready to help me into the dinghy. I glanced back at the mangroves and back at him, and I realized: we’re all in this together.