On the day of the completion of her studies to become a physician, a young woman was called to meet with the elders of the village.
“In honor of your accomplishment, we wish to give you a gift,” one of the elders said to her. “We give you this pine.”
The woman stepped forward and accepted the tiny sapling in its small pot.
“Thank you,” she said. “I’m grateful for this gift. I’ll care for it well.”
As she left the hall of the elders, the woman looked at her gift in wonder. They had called it a pine, but its leaves were broad, waxy, and smooth, not sharp and prickly. It surely was an oak. But she did not dwell on this. She believed the elders knew what they were talking about. They were the elders, after all. And it was a beautiful tree. She was honored that they thought highly enough of her to give it to her.
“Now,” she thought, “I must find a place to plant it. Trees must be planted.” But, though her studies were complete, she did not know yet where she would live. She did not know where she would work. Suddenly, she felt an urgency to settle in one place, to plant her tree.
She set off through the countryside looking for a place to plant the pine. Everywhere she went, people came to her seeking healing. Each time someone requested her attention, she gently set the tree down beside her and set to work.
“What a beautiful oak,” each would comment.
“It’s a pine,” she would say. “And thank you. It was a gift from the elders of my village. I hope to find a suitable place to work so that I may plant it and it can thrive.”
Each time, the patients would nod, understanding.
Time passed, and though the woman traveled from place to place, she could not find the perfect place for her pine. Here it was too shady. Here too sandy. Here too rocky. She would set the tree down to look at it in each place, to gauge its ability to thrive, and each time, she would heal the town’s sick, and then pick the tree up again to move on.
The tree grew. Several times, the woman, replanted the tree into a new, bigger pot. And yet, she carried it with her, always loving it, always tending to it, always searching for its perfect home.
The woman grew older. The tree grew bigger.
One day after years of travel around the country healing the sick and searching for the tree’s best home, she found herself back in her own village. She felt an overwhelming sense of sadness that she had not yet found the tree a suitable and permanent garden. She carried the tree back to the hall of the elders and set the tree before them.
“I would like to return this pine to you, my venerable teachers. I have loved it well and have kept it with me all of these years, but I haven’t succeeded in finding a suitable place to plant it, or to plant myself, for that matter.”
The elder who had spoken when they gave her the tree spoke to her again. “Why do you feel that this tree must be planted?” he asked.
“It’s a tree,” she said. “Trees must be planted.”
“Why must this tree be planted?” he asked.
“To grow and thrive,” she said.
“Has not this tree grown? Has not it thrived?” he asked.
The woman looked at the tree. It was full grown now, a beautiful tree. Its branches reached the sky. Now, when she set it down beside her to work, it provided towering shelter and shade for her patients. The sound of its leaves in the breeze beckoned songbirds and squirrels to make their home in it. Carrying it for all of these years had made her strong, and yet she could lean upon it when she was tired and it would hold her steady.
The tree had grown. It had thrived.
The woman looked at the elders in surprise. “It has.”
“You gave me this pine and I assumed that I must plant it. So I traveled the world looking for its place. Through the years I was so consumed with planting the tree, that I failed to notice that it was growing and strong despite its simple pot.”
“Ah,” said one elder. “This is no ordinary tree. It is not like others. This tree is special in that it is just like you. Like you, it will thrive wherever it is. Like you, it will be strong wherever it is. Like you, it will give shelter and shade wherever it is. Like you, it will be magnificent wherever it is.”
The woman stared in disbelief. She could not argue. She had the proof right beside her. The tree was magnificent. And as she reflected on her years of travel as a physician, she knew that what the elder said was correct.
“And another thing,” said another elder, smiling. “This is not a pine. It is an oak.”
“But you called it a pine all those years ago,” she said. “You said ‘we give you this pine.'”
“No,” said the elder. “We said, ‘we give you this spine.’”
The woman gasped, and then laughed, shaking her head. “And all this time…” she said.
The elder smiled at her. “The gift of this tree was perfect. It represented your backbone of knowledge, skill, and talent. It represented your gift. It represented you and your ability to stand on your own wherever you are. It represented the fact that whatever you need is right inside you, at your core.”
Another said: “It did and it does. The tree was your gift. But more, it is your gift.”
The woman beamed. She stood tall before them. She squared her shoulders and raised her chin.
“Thank you for this lesson, elders. Though it has taken me years to understand, I finally do,” she said, laughing at herself. “Now, if you will please excuse me, my tree and I must be off to attend to the sick of the village before we go.”
She bowed to them, picked up her beautiful, full-grown oak, and walked out of the hall into the light of the square, where scores of townspeople waited patiently to be healed in the shade of the tree.
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