The Tulip and the Tulip Tree: A Story for Anyone Who's Ever Compared His or Her Life to Another&
A tulip was planted in a garden beneath a towering tree. Each morning all through the month of May its blossoms unfurled. It was a joy to be alive. The tulip was pleased to open itself and share its beauty with its small corner of the world.
Then, on a windy day, a sprinkling of strange green and yellow blossoms rained down from the tree. “Whatever can these be?” the tulip asked a squirrel cavorting around the base of the tree. The squirrel paused just long enough to say, “Why, never fear, they’re blossoms from the tulip tree that’s lived here for hundreds of years. Who would have thunk delicate flowers could come from something with such a massive trunk!”
The tulip was stunned. It was not at all pleased that blossoms from trees like these could rain down in a breeze. And what a shock it was for the tulip to learn the name of this tree. How, oh how could it be the same? A name such as mine, he thought, has a bad ring for such an oversized thing.
And all through the heat of that day and into the night the tulip thought, and thought, and thought. What an awful day! How can it be that this massive tree in whose shadow I live produces blossoms too? And they dare call these blossoms tulips? To such a height I will never grow. The view from that lofty place I will never know. I am forever stuck in this humble, hugging-the-earth way of living that until just earlier today I thought was an honorable way of giving myself to the world. But what have I to give that is not more impressively supplied by this giant that offers so much more than I? Not thousands, but just these few blossoms have I to give. Not hundreds but merely a short span of years have I to live. I felt until now I was something sublime, but for that way of feeling it’s clearly no longer time. Now is the time to realize the truth about me: I’m an insignificant tulip living in the shadow of a tulip tree.
Despite all his thinking, or more likely because of it, the tulip could not find the peace and joy that were once so effortless.
The next two springs, the tulip came up only to see that it remained in the shadow of the great tulip tree. While doing what it came to consider its month-long tour of flowering duty, it looked forward to shedding its beauty of such insignificant worth and returning to its dark and latent life beneath the earth. Who tries to compete with a plant a gazillion times its size? Why not sleep away my life beneath the ground, and try to forget that this ridiculously blessed tulip tree is always around?
The third May after the awful day the tulip awakened from its sleep and knew it was time to face blossoming duty again. Again it did its mandatory toil of pushing up through the soil, but this time found itself amid branches and leaves.
“What is all this?” the tulip asked the squirrel. “An intense storm just last night has snapped a branch of mighty girth and made it crash upon the earth,” said the squirrel.
“Is the tulip tree OK?” the tulip asked. The question came unbidden from an unfamiliar place and seemed to give his mind a new kind of space. It came without a trace of all that had made him brace against the coming of spring.
“It will live,” said the squirrel, “but it is more vulnerable now to insects and disease. We all have our hardships in this life, you see. Don’t even let me get you started about me.”
And then a small voice, not the squirrel’s, spoke with the gentleness of the morning breeze: You have a choice. Cease seeing your blossoming as duty. Reclaim your sacred and authentic beauty.
How strange, the tulip thought a bit later in a gentle rain, that the key to finding joy again is feeling another’s pain. And day after day that May the tulip opened itself to the world like a child at play. And the rest of that spring and every one it was given thereafter, the tulip greeted each and every day the same: “What I do is me, for this I came.”
Copyright 2016 by Kevin Anderson Note: The final line of the story is a slight paraphrase of a line from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.”