The jacaranda lesson

Think of the jacaranda tree next door.

A long time ago, when the kids were tiny, they planted a jacaranda tree for Father’s Day for me. I am choking with tears when I think of this, right now.

We moved. Next door.

Now another family owns our old house. The jacaranda tree is beautiful and large. They are the recipients of the pleasure given by that tree. It is not in my back yard. It’s in theirs.

Then think of people who planted another tree. Decades ago, someone went to the City of Santa Monica and arranged to rent a small community room in a park. An unknown series of people showed up every Monday night, year after year, to unlock the door, make some coffee, set out the literature, and stand at the door to welcome new arrivals. Who are these people? No one knows.

They planted a seed. And when I showed up, at random, and walked into that room — my life changed permanently for the better. I left at the break because I didn’t know it was the coffee break. I went and sat in my car and wept. Because I knew what I heard from those people was true.

And where are those people? Scattered, anonymous, maybe living, maybe dead. Each, in a small way, contributed to my life. How can I thank them? I have never been back to that meeting since that first night. Yet here I sit. Amazed and amazing.

Parents. Talk about action with no expectation of reward. Marry, and concede full control of your life to your wife. Rank yourself last (after the dog) in importance in the house. A child is born. All of the reward belongs to this tiny human that you created. All of the work, and worry, and burden? Yours.

You’re putting in effort for a payoff that will happen after you are dead.

Look at this. Someone consciously chose responsibility and burden to create and help run that candlelight meeting in Santa Monica so long ago. No payoff for them except they stayed sober that day. Show up and make coffee, or stay home and watch TV? They chose to make coffee for strangers.

Someone consciously chose the work of buying a small jacaranda tree and planting it. No payoff for them except to make a happy Dad on a random Father’s Day. Socks or tree? They chose tree.

Choosing to be a parent or buy expensive cars and houses? No payoff for me except the utter pleasure of watching three little ones blossom and flourish. I chose fatherhood.

Choose the harder way. Choose the way where the payoff belongs to someone else. That’s where true happiness is found. At least in my experience and observation.