As winter turns to spring and dreams of summertime travel and adventure appear to be real possibilities, I find myself trying to dust off the cobwebs of the past year and figuring out how to transition to the post-pandemic world. There is an opportunity in this in-between-space to pause and consider what’s next.
Instead of falling back into the way things “have always been done,” there is value in taking a moment to consider how to do things differently and what new possibilities may be available as a result.
In reflecting on this process of emerging and redefining how to be in the world, I find myself thinking of baskets and banyan trees and what they can tell us about how to build stronger communities going forward.
A banyan tree is a large, sprawling tree whose branches grow out, like any tree. But then, at some signal from the tree, they grow into the ground again, putting down roots to form new trunks. Reconnecting back to the earth grounds and strengthens the tree as it grows up and out, making a little forest of limbs that stretch over space and create a rooted support system for an ever-expanding canopy.
There is a banyan tree in the town square of Lahaina, on the island of Maui. This tree measured just eight feet tall when it was imported from India and planted in 1873. Today, it is over sixty feet high with a canopy spanning a quarter of a mile. During an anniversary trip to Hawaii, I found myself under this intriguing tree in the open-air market hosted amid its sprawling branches.
Wandering through the market, I spied a table of hand-woven baskets. I am intrigued by vessels – baskets, bowls, boxes, containers, vases – and how they can hold any number of things, their form giving structure and space for the contents they contain. You can pick them up, carry them, or put something in them that changes the way they look and function. Vessels are containers of possibility, and they remind me that anything can happen.
The baskets that day were particularly appealing to me because I had recently taken a basket-weaving class. We all used the same store-bought materials to make our baskets, resulting in a classroom’s worth of similar structures. These structures were lovely because we made them, but I found myself wondering what other materials were out there – and, what would they make possible?
The Maui basket weaver was the answer to my questions. She creates her baskets from unique things in the area: palm fronds, twigs, banana leaves, bits of string, shells, lost beads, and colorful ribbons. She said that over time she shifted her weaving and redefined the way she approaches constructing her containers. Instead of using the usual materials, she now looks around to see what the area offers. Then she gathers up the treasures and weaves them into something new.
Building and growing strong communities is a lot like making baskets. Like the Maui basket materials, every community has unique assets and people who make it special. And, like a basket, communities hold so much potential for good. If we pause and look at what is already here, we can determine how to weave something new that reflects the uniqueness of that place. Weaving together pieces of community – people with various skills, experiences, and backgrounds; assets remembered and forgotten; and bits of culture, community pride, local knowledge, and expertise – can make a community flourish. It can give it new life and new possibilities.
I bought a basket that day under the Lahaina banyan tree. I keep it in my office next to the basket I made in the basket weaving class. I see those baskets almost every day, and they remind me of the power of redefining the way things “have always been done.” That most of what we need is right there within or in front of us, waiting to be gathered up and woven into something new.
The baskets also remind me of the banyan tree. It redefined what it means to be a tree by evolving beyond a one-trunk system into a structure that creates a network of limbs and trunks that help it expand its reach, support its growth, and increase its impact. Kind of like how communities thrive when they build intentional systems and connections among people and resources that allow growth and development, while remaining grounded in the strength of their places and their people. Like the banyan tree, communities can embrace new approaches that push them to grow outward while staying rooted in what matters.
As the light at the end of the long pandemic tunnel comes into view, let’s take the time to pause. Let’s reflect on how to best engage in the world and with each other, and in doing so, create new possibilities for the places and people we love.
Tammy is a business owner and an active community philanthropist and change-maker. Her work focuses on innovative approaches to positive community change, such as Daycos4good, the Youth Philanthropy Contest, and the Philanthropy Council of Northeast Nebraska.