Today Suzanne and I walked the University of Arizona campus. We do this often because it’s beautiful and there’s a coffee shop nearby that has wonderful almond croissants. During our walk, we came upon a campus building we’d never seen – The Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. When you walk into the lobby, the first thing you see is a slice of a 1704 year-old Redwood tree. The tree began it’s life in 211 A D. It fell to the ground in 1915.
Okay you might say, it’s an old tree, so what? It’s much more than an old tree. The tree represents a time period of worldwide immense progress and immense evil. If you Google events that happened in 211 AD, you’ll see that Emperor Septimius Severus of Rome died and his two sons Caracalla and Geta succeed him as joint Roman Emperors. Again, maybe a so what moment. What has happened in the 1700 years since then ? Some amazing events – The Crusades, The Magna Carta, Joan of Arc, The Industrial Revolution, The American Revolutionary War, American Civil War, World Wars I & II, man landed on the moon. Other events of smaller magnitude, electric power, nuclear power, the automobile and airplane, and of course the i-phone. Okay maybe pretty significant after all.
What else occurred? America was re-discovered by Columbus and millions of the native peoples were killed or died of disease. Millions of slaves were brought to this country. A civil war was fought and more than 600,000 people died. In total, it’s estimated that more than 1,260,000 Americans have died in Wars. Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 108 million people have died in wars during the 20th. century. Famine and disease run rampant across this planet. I will stop with this.
Yes, there has been amazing strides in history and there has been unspeakable terror during the same period of time. And I don’t know how I feel about where we are today. It seems too easy to pick up my smart phone and find these horrible facts. 108 million dead people due to war shows up feeling like a casual fact on a small screen.
Hundreds of millions of people have lived and died during the 1700 years that tree stood. Hundreds of millions of lives – people who have loved, raised families, worked, fought, prayed and died. It was amazing and somewhat overpowering to stand and look at it, realizing the history that passed during that tree’s life. It was humbling beyond belief. The immense goodness of mankind as well as the immense cruelty of that same species; it’s impossible to comprehend. As I ran my hand across those 17 centuries, I touched all of that history, the good and the evil. I somehow felt both the significance of my life and the insignificance at the same time. We are each part of that history. Perhaps we have a responsibility to do all we can to add to the good of mankind and to oppose all that is evil. And yet, I question do we really know the difference between the two?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
Go Well – David