My eight-year-old glances out the front window during Shabbos lunch and does a double-take.
“Ima! What’s Mr. Smith doing?”
For the last seven years, our home has looked out on our neighbors’ four lollipop-shaped ficus trees. They add a certain flair, a bit of joie de vivre to the neighborhood.
Hearing our neighbor start up his chainsaw across the street, I assume Mr. Smith is going to prune and shape the trees’ foliage, which he does about once a month. Yet when I peek out the window, I see something else entirely. “Oh, no! He’s cutting down the trees!”
“The lollipop trees?” asks my five-year-old, a wrinkle in her brow. She runs to the window and presses her face against the glass. I can’t help but stare as branches crash to the ground, one at a time.
The next day, after I drop my youngest at preschool, I bump into Mr. Smith. He’s swinging an ax to cut out the stumps that remain from yesterday’s demolition.
“Hey, there, neighbor!” says Mr. Smith, his usual quirky greeting.
“I’ve gotta ask — what happened to the trees!?!” The words just fly out of my mouth.
He says, “Well, when I planted those trees all those years ago, I had no idea that they would start to tear up the sidewalk.” He points to a root causing the pavement to buckle. “And they eat up my time. When I have a day off, do I want to spend it pruning the trees or hanging with my kids?”
We schmooze for a couple more minutes about the drought-tolerant, low-water landscaping that will replace the lollipop trees, then I continue on to the store, thinking about what he’d said.
When I planted those trees all those years ago, I had no idea…
I grew up with two doting great-aunts, Aunt LeEtta and Aunt Helga, who lived just a few blocks from one another. In Aunt LeEtta’s front yard stood a beautiful cherry tree, which produced luscious fruit every May and June.
One year, with her eldest grandson off at yeshiva, I volunteered to pick the cherries from Aunt LeEtta’s tree. As she held the bucket for me below, she told me the story of its origin:
“Years ago, your aunt Helga and I sat on the front lawn, watching the kids play and sharing a bowl of cherries.
“‘My goodness!’ Helga burst out. ‘This is the sweetest cherry I have ever eaten!’
“‘Do you have the pit?’ I asked.
“‘Why don’t we plant the pit and see what happens? Maybe someday it’ll grow cherries as sweet as this one.’
“So Helga dug a little hole right here on this spot and pushed in that tiny pit. It grew into this tree.”
Every day, I plant seeds through my daily words and actions. Which ones will grow into a nuisance, and which ones, a pleasure? Which ones will I have to uproot, and which ones will feed generations to come?
We like to think that we are entirely in charge of the outcome of our deeds. If we work hard, things will turn out well; while laziness or inattention will have the opposite result. Yet we see this is not true. My neighbor exerted himself to plant and tend his trees, and yet they caused him trouble. My aunts made a tiny effort, hardly any effort at all, and it bore enormous fruit.
Our control is minimal. Yes, we must try. But we cannot beat ourselves up over the result, good or bad, because ultimately, it’s in G-d’s hands.