Letter from Langdon: Tree of Life
Richard Oswald brings a parable of community, leadership, and property.
Druids at the Sacred Tree
Etching by Ruth Leaf
Once upon a time, a long time ago in a wild and unsettled land, a sprout grew where nothing like it had ever grown before. People took notice of the tiny shoot. It had great beauty, and they saw that it held a wonderful promise. It became so important to them that when the tiny tree began to wither they watered it with their sweat and their blood, and when cruel storm winds swirled round it they anchored it with the sacrifice of their own bodies.
The tree grew and became stronger. More people came to behold its splendor and strength. It shimmered in the light of day, and even on the darkest nights it cast a radiance reflected not just from heavenly bodies, but from the body of an enlightened and faithful people. Growing ever taller, it sheltered the people from cataclysm and tragedy. It provided sustenance and protection, and the people loved it. When others tried to take it for the wealth it offered, once again the people watered the tree with their own blood, mixed with the blood of their enemies. It became known to all as the Freedom Tree.
The Tree bore many types of fruit, and was covered with leaves of silver and gold. Then one day the people chose a leader who told them that the Tree was in danger, and that they must harvest the fruit of the Tree to keep it safe. So the leader picked the fruit called “Opportunity” and told the people he would share it with those who knew it and deserved it best, to keep it safe. Next the leader picked the fruit called “Knowledge,” and he told the people he would share it with those who would use it and protect it. And then the leader of the people picked the fruit called “Wealth,” and he promised them that one day all would share it, but for the time being that he and his closest friends would hold that fruit among themselves. And the Leader picked the fruit called “Rights,” and told everyone that this fruit was too precious to share during such difficult times, and he promised to keep it locked away so that when the troubled times had passed, all could again possess it.
By then there was only one fruit left on the tree. It was the fruit called “Liberty.”
With so much having been taken and so little given back, the tree began to wither as its leaves fell to the ground, one by one. The leader came to the people and told them that for the good of the Tree, the last fruit must be picked so that it could survive the long cold winter of his reign. And as the people who no longer shared any of the other fruits of freedom watched, he plucked the last, Liberty, from the Tree. Frigid winter winds blew across the land. The sun ceased to shine. The Tree no longer reflected the strengths of a nation of people who had witnessed its birth, because all their strength had been taken away. Some huddled without comfort in their homes. Other people no longer possessed homes, having lost them when the fruits of Wealth and Opportunity were snatched away. The long winter was upon them, even as the Leader stayed warm and satisfied in his palace on the hill, surrounded by all the fruits of his labor.
After long months of darkness and cold, the Leader announced that he would soon leave, and that he would take what was left of the fruit from the Tree of Freedom with him. As he departed the palace on the hill, he sowed burrs that grew weeds of hate and distrust, and he watered them with his lies, and mulched them with deceit, and the seeds of hate bore thorns and bitter grain. Those who would lead the people anew came forth, but were soon lost in that wasted wilderness that had become barren of any but the worst expectation. The people seemed resigned to entering another long winter in defeat, even before spring could cleanse the land with a renewed season of anticipation.
Tree of Life by Almann, Haiti
Katherine Dunham Collections
Then one who might lead stepped forth, and he cut the spiteful, thorny weeds and laid them aside, calling to the people to meet him at the Tree. Slowly at first, they came, following in ever greater numbers. The sun emerged from behind dark clouds. The Tree shone as new buds swelled on its beleaguered boughs, and near the top, one small blossom opened. The new leader called to the people: “Behold the blossom at the top of the Tree. The Freedom Tree will bear new fruit, a new crop, but not just for me. It will grow on the tree for everyone. We will not pick this fruit, but will watch it and nurture it, and I will guard it with my life. I ask that all of you do the same, because this single blossom is special, and will bring forth sweet new fruits of Freedom, enough for everyone. It is the very fruit that produced the seed from which this Tree sprang”.
And the people asked what they should call the product of this miraculous blossom, the progeny of a single bloom capable of restoring all the fruits of Opportunity, Knowledge, Wealth, Rights, and Liberty, to the Freedom Tree. And the leader of the people told them: