The Parable of the Diseased Tree

Latticed_Oak_Roots_-_geograph.org.uk_-_395650

A man lived in the Great Plains, many years ago. He had only one source of wood for all his needs: a beautiful large oak tree growing behind his cottage. Anyone passing by could see that this was truly a beautiful tree, and of course it was an oak tree so it must be strong. It would protect him from the prairie’s storms and provide shade from the sun.

This man was very happy about his tree. It was really all he had ever wanted to meet his many needs. It was large enough to provide firewood from its fallen branches, its many limbs could be cut as he needed them for building furniture. The man was very happy.

One day the man decided to make a chair, so he took his saw and went out to his tree. He climbed onto one of the lower limbs and began to saw it off. As his saw bit into the wood, the man got a funny feeling. Something just didn’t seem right. As he finished sawing the limb suddenly snapped as if it were brittle, shooting splinters into the man’s eyes. He was surprised and hurt, but he managed to clear his eyes and slid down to where the limb had dropped to the ground.

He looked at the end where he had made his cut and to his amazement he saw not the solid, gleaming bands of a healthy oak, but a pithy, brittle mass riddled with holes. The limb would not serve for furniture – no way. And the man realised that something was amiss. He began having suspicions about his beautiful tree.

The next day the man tried again, for life presses on, and he really needed a chair. So he climbed again to another limb, and began cutting. And again, just as he was about to complete his task, the limb shattered and sprayed him with sharp splinters. This time he was prepared, and managed to turn his head, but the splinters were sharp and they hurt him nonetheless. Again he climbed down, and discovered the same pithy, brittle mass.

With this the man realised that his precious tree was not well. It was diseased. It was infested with an insect, the prairie oak flea, which was known to cripple trees, but not to kill them.

As the disease progressed, the man realised that he was not getting from his tree the things he counted on for his safety and comfort. The leaves became thin and scattered, and the tree could not provide the shade that he needed from the hot sun. When storms came, instead of the sheltering buffer he had hoped for, the tree would yield its weakened limbs to the winds and they crashed down on his cottage roof. Once a limb broke right through in the midst of a storm and the man spent a cold wet night waiting for daylight so he could close the hole.

But still, the man loved his tree. It was a beautiful tree. And it was an oak. It was HIS oak. “I love my tree,” said the man. “I know it has a disease, but I love the tree nonetheless. I chose to build my home in its shelter and I am committed to staying with it.”

One day a passing wagon stopped, and the man in the wagon asked, “Why do you stay under this sick tree? It’s causing you so much pain, and there are things you need that it doesn’t give you?”

“Oh, no,” said the man. “ I love my tree. It’s the disease that I hate. The tree is still a beautiful tree, and it is my life.”

“But look,” said the man in the wagon. “Its wood is rotten. Its shade is useless. It harms you in storms when it should shelter you. And you have no furniture because its wood is brittle and pithy.”

“Oh, no,” said the man. “You must learn to separate the disease from the tree. Otherwise you’ll become embittered.”

“Well,” said the man in the wagon, “if the disease is separate, then where is the tree without the disease? I don’t see a healthy tree standing next to a disease. All I see is a pithy, bug-eaten tree that can barely stand on its own. If your tree is such a good provider, why is that you have so little, and what you have is patched and leaking?”

The man thought for a while, and then said, “You know, maybe you are right. No matter how much I say I love that tree, it will never give me the things I need from it. I guess you’re right. The TREE and the DISEASE are all the same thing. I don’t have a tree and a disease. I have a DISEASED TREE. And the longer I hang out under this tree, the longer I’m going to live without the shade and the wind shelter and the furniture that I need, and the more likely I’m going to be conked on the head by a falling limb. Maybe I need to start looking for another tree that can give me what I need…”

The man thought about it, and a little later he decided to look around for another place to have his home. And the man found a spot, even better than the one he had been living in, with a healthy maple growing nearby.

He hated to think of building his home all over again, but he was, at heart, a courageous man, and he decided to try. In a few months he had a new home, shaded in the summer, shielded from the wind, safe during storms, and he was able to build beautiful furniture for his study. He lived there, mostly happily, writing to his many friends who also had problem trees.

His old tree continued to grow in its same spot, and continued dropping limbs during every storm, just as before.

by Richard Skerritt

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