In the course of daily research, I came across a quote that has stuck with me. I’m not sure how I’ve not seen or heard this before, but, until now, it had escaped my view.
The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit. ~ Nelson Henderson
I am enthralled with this quote. The images evoked are hauntingly beautiful to me. The work we are meant to do is service to the world, and the benefit of our serving is to be reaped by someone other than ourselves. What a joyous world it might be if we could all understand life this way. Our endeavors should not be gauged upon what we will get out of them, but rather on their necessity alone.
How drastically it could change life to give to a charity without a receipt for the tax break. What freedom could come from building houses without a captioned photo on display. I’ve worked with and for many charities over the years – supporting causes linked to health, aging, animals, education, children, destitute, abused. There is so much need in the world. I didn’t do it for the recognition or tax benefit, but I didn’t do it in an altruistic manner either. When I rehabed a house in New Orleans, I never expected to be the one living in it, of course. But, boy did I wear my team shirt proudly and stand in front of gatherings to proclaim my devotion. It wasn’t ever about me, but there was an element of “look at us, look at this cause that we chose, you should do this, too.”
It’s hard to merely plant a tree. There is an elemental need to know who will sit in its shade. We want to know that what we do matters. We want to see the conversion we bring about in the world. We seek validation in order to continue. We need to trust in ourselves and our choices. When validation comes from within, we can begin to live more authentically. Maybe then we can plant a tree and let the branches stretch where they may, shading anyone in their reach. And when we look up, we’ll find we’re standing in the shade of a tree planted by someone else.
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