Photo Credit: Wendy Zacuto

By Wendy Zacuto, MA.Ed

I live in Playa del Rey, the flat part that people sometimes call “apartment village.” As a dedicated walker, I enjoy the choice of walking steep hills or finding a path that winds evenly through the community. I enjoy our businesses, especially those who provide water or iced tea for a thirsty walker. On a good day, I’m stunned by the beauty of Playa del Rey: the wetlands, the views of the ocean and mountains, the landscapes and the sky.

Today, I was particularly entranced by the trees. Trees seem like such a great metaphor for a community, especially those regal trees that spread their solid branches wide and twisting and reaching out begging for a child to climb inside. We know that trees support our human community with more than beauty – they provide carbon dioxide so we can breathe and give shelter from the sun’s rays, and in a small way move us away from climate destruction. They give freely of their gifts and we accept them eagerly, often without any notice.

But trees cannot work alone; they do their work through a root system, without which the tree could not stand and would die of lack of water. We can’t see the complex systems of roots below the surface, but they are the lifeblood that supports the beauty and gifts we receive. Kind of like a human community.

As we go through our days, we often find that despite our Southern California weather and many conveniences, we sometimes feel afraid or become angry. We see what we perceive as threats to our peaceful existence as a horrible intrusion. Homelessness and poverty are not welcome here, as we size up our own specific lives and become as someone welcoming the tree, but being completely ungrateful and acknowledging of the work of the roots.

If we take a different vantage point, we begin to think of the roots of a tree – not just the tree as it stands broad and safe above the ground. We see the entire community of the tree, leaves, branches, trunk, roots and all – as metaphor for our freedom and lives in a well-supported community.

If we think of every human who comes to Playa del Rey as our community, we become the roots that feed our community. We become people who reach out, where others may not see us, to provide the infrastructure that enables communities to house the homeless and feed the hungry. We choose hard workers to support us in city government instead of holding on to our helplessness and fear. Our anger and fear transform into the question: What can we all do to help? Instead of: “It’s not fair to me that these people exist. It’s not my problem.”

There are neither good nor bad people here in our community. There are people who misread the unspoken contract of a community.

Healthy communities, like strong trees with deep-root systems, look for and create solutions to problems rather than being guided by fear to reach out and harm. Effective community members join and form groups that work together to ensure the health of the great “tree of life” our human tree.

It’s unfortunate that sometimes the misguided solution makes things worse; roots get cut instead of fed. The money that could be used to help those less fortunate, to implement a compassionate plan for healing our difficulties, is likely to be used for another useless election.

I ask that as you travel through our community day by day, you remember the roots as you gaze at the beauty that surrounds you and take a deep breath. We are the fixers. We are the roots. We are all community if we want to be.