Once upon a time, there was a giant oak tree in the middle of a city park. Its branches stretched out generously on every side so that the tree was a welcome haven for lots of creatures. Birds and squirrels nested high up in the forks of the tree. One morning, a small acorn in its hard leathery shell fell from the tree and plopped onto the carpet of grass beneath. It was a pretty little acorn. Luckily the jays and pigeons did not notice it, because had they seen it, they most certainly would have devoured it.
The acorn was happy with life on the lush grass and wanted things to remain just as they were. The last thing it wanted—God forbid!—was to become an oak tree. It had heard frightening stories about oak trees that had been cut down by human beings or had been struck by nasty bolts of lightning. The little acorn settled comfortably on the grass, and in the days and weeks that followed, it sank slowly and snugly into the soil beneath.
Eventually, the water from rain and the warmth of the sun conspired together to transform the acorn into a small green shoot. One day, the shoot cautiously poked up through the grass. It was not happy with this new state of affairs; it had changed and become a new self against its will.
“Well,” it resolved, “I’m not growing any taller than this.”
However, the park gardener took a liking to this fragile green sprout and started to nurture it. Each day he came by to see how it was doing, and he cleared away weeds so that the rays of the sun could shine directly on it. Before it knew what was happening, the shoot was on its way to becoming a sapling. It was devastated. Not only was life as an acorn irretrievably lost, but now it seemed that life as a shoot was gone forever as well. This really was out of order. It decided that enough was enough: it would not grow any leaves. But the park gardener was nothing if not persistent, and continued to care assiduously for this tender young tree. He fastened it against a stake to help it withstand strong winds, and regularly pruned its branches. In early spring, the first buds appeared, and then the first leaves. The leaves were large and green, and tipped with bristles. On the underside their delicate veins were clearly visible.
The young oak tree decided that this would truly be the end of the road: it did not want any more change. With all its might, it forbade each leaf from changing color in the fall. But the gentle gardener had other plans. He continued to watch over the tree. He watered its roots when the weather was dry. He fertilized the ground beneath it. Over time, its leaves changed to a rich red. Small groups of people began to gather in the park to look at what had now become a giant tree. They gazed spellbound as its leaves blazed red against the evening sky in autumn.
The huge oak tree became a generous home for human beings, animals, and birds. Squirrels built their dens between its sturdy branches. Many kinds of birds, from woodpeckers to red-tailed hawks, made their nests in it. New acorns grew and dropped from the tree to the lush grass beneath. Some were eaten by squirrels and blue jays. Others sank into the soil and began their own long journey to become future oak trees. The tree’s dense crown provided a cool umbrella against the sun’s glare in summer and the biting wind in winter. Yet the oak tree had still not come to terms with its lot.
But something happened one winter night that led to a groundbreaking change. An icy windstorm descended upon the park and wreaked havoc everywhere, badly damaging the huge oak tree as well. The next morning when the storm had passed, the gardener came by to check on the oak tree and saw that many of its branches were broken. He carefully cut them away and painstakingly applied soothing ointment to the tree. He placed heavy wooden planks around it and encircled the trunk in a wire mesh.
After working a long time on his knees at the base of the tree, the gardener paused for a moment. He turned his face upward. The giant oak tree looked down at his glowing face, a countenance that radiated wisdom and acceptance. At that moment, something changed for the oak tree. It was not a matter of becoming resigned to its fate or tolerating its lot; instead it now recognized its life as a blessing. Its leaves rustled in the wind and even its majestic trunk swayed slightly as it breathed in a newfound serenity and uttered a wholehearted yes.
Source: Thomas G. Casey SJ and Margaret Brennan Hassett,
From Fear to Serenity with Anthony de Mello
(Paulist Press, 2011) Pages 70-72
“Never shy away from opportunity and wholehearted living. Never be fearful of putting yourself out there. The courageous may encounter many disappointments, experience profound disillusionment, gather many wounds; but cherish your scars for they are the proud emblems of a truly phenomenal life. The fearful, cautious, cynical and self-repressed do not live at all. And that is simply no way to be in this world.” ―Anthon St. Maarten