Palm Trees In A Hurricane: Strength and Flexibility Under Pressure
Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.
In a high school Psychology class we were asked to share what tree we identified with. Everyone was choosing Oak, Maple, Sequoia, and other mighty trees, followed by sounds of approval from the class. When it came my turn I said, “Palm Tree,” immediately followed by uproarious laughter from the entire class seated in a beautiful new theater style classroom. “Palm Tree! What a wimpy tree!” many people jeered. I assumed it was because those Okies had no real experience with Palm Trees.
I had been born and reared on 5 lush hillside acres in Honolulu with a view of the Western hemisphere all the way to Molokai, and had observed over the years how the PalmTrees of all sizes and varieties withstood hurricane force winds and tsunamis. They were not only regal, graceful, beautiful, and full of vibrance, they were extremely resilient. Palm trees would bend over to the ground in the torrential winds; then bounce right back up tall and proud.
A beautiful early life in paradise with prosperous, popular, beautiful parents and older sisters, for sure. Alas, I was born to a life of repeatedly overcoming adversity, despite having a life of privilege.
At birth I was given a diagnosis of extreme infantile asthma that was predicted to kill me in 4 years. At age 4, I was given 7 years to live due to a very rare diagnosis (at the time) of early childhood onset diabetes. Seven years later, I was given 3 days to live at which time I was unplugged from life support machines and drugs after extreme brain damage and being in a vegetative state due to my brain being completely flattened in a landslide. After completing a grueling Ph.D. program at age 28 I went blind in both eyes. With 20/20 vision at age 50 during a very successful psychology career at a world-renowned chemical dependency treatment center and at a highly respected university, I was given 5 minutes to live as the cardiologists surrounded my bed in the ER following a massive heart attack. I went on to receive multiple promotions in the healthcare field, over the next 12 years. (I finally said, ENOUGH of this!) To this day I still function like a “healthy” person, despite medical professionals reading my medical record for the first time and not being able to contain their gallows laughter.
Early in my life I regarded myself as a weak person who somehow managed to beat the odds (strong will to live, supportive relationships, prayer/meditation, medical support, holistic life style, fierce determination); but none-the-less, “Weak Person” somehow defeating what “God” had actually intended for me (death).
Recently, I had a sort of epiphany: I am actually an extremely Strong resilient flexible person who faces AND OVERCOMES adversity every minute of every day and night; and who like a Palm Tree bends to the ground in the hurricanes and tsunamis of my life; then bounces back upright and proud, holding my head up to the sun and the tropical breezes. I am truly grateful and joyful.
This new very real experience of myself as extremely Strong has significantly enhanced my healing.
Christopher Knippers, Ph.D., March 19,2023