Toastmasters Speech #5: Tree of Life

For 16 of the years i was living in Laguna, the mango tree planted in our front yard was my constant companion. It bore mute witness to my triumphs and trials. It witnessed my graduations, birthday parties, breakups, senti moments, etc. But not only did it witness, I learned quite a few valuable lessons in life from this tree. How could it do that while it was just a tree? Well it didn’t exactly pick itself up and walk like a Lord or the Rings ent! But mind you, it did move once! We’ll get to that later.  What I learned was: 1) Always keep your goal in mind, plan. 2) Know the cost of your goals 3) Be aware of your surroundings and adapt. 4) Nothing is permanent.

1) Our family loves mangoes. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, dessert and merienda. We made mango shakes, put mango cubes in our rice, you name it! We bought mangoes by the kaing. And so we were always so excited and expectant about the gold mine sitting right outside. We had the vision of a productive mango tree firmly fixed in our minds.  That kept us going through the years of working on the tree, waiting.

2) What we didn’t think of was that we were growing a full-sized mango tree in a 150sqm lot. It eventually outstripped all the other indian mango trees in our village. And soon it was raining dead leaves on our roof, clogging up the drains and causing leaks and rust. The cemented walk from the gate was cracked by the relentlessly growing roots.  You must know what your goal costs, or you will be sidetracked and your investment will be dead in the ground.

3) Yes, it was a maintenance nightmare. We also had to watch out for bugs and other parasites that may damage our tree. The first time our tree flowered we were so excited, we’d go out every morning to see how the fruits were doing, and at night we’d stare at the fruits through the window. A few weeks later, the fruits fell prematurely, growth stunted by lack of nutrition thanks to pests. So we spent a lot on insecticides and fertilizers. We trimmed it regularly and aerated the soil close to the roots. This taught me the value of being aware of my surroundings, and adapting to the situation.

4) Then in late 2006, tragedy struck. Typhoon Milenyo grasped our tree by the branches and mercilessly uprooted it. It turns out that our soil was only one meter loam, and who knows how much rock beneath. In the aftermath, we went out and found the tree leaning on our wall. And we were the lucky ones, a few neighbors had their trees fall forward into the street, smashing their fence. God guided the tree away from smashing into the adjacent garage, which could have caused much more damage. I joined in hacking the tree apart myself. In a way, the uprooting was symbolic. A few months later, we moved out of the house. And now I live in the savage, treeless jungle of Manila. Yes, nothing is permanent. And what may seem invincible will come to pass.

For most of my life, that tree stood as a reminder of the slow but steady passing of time. It conveyed the sense of permanence in its ever-present, ever-available shade. It was a reminder of change by virtue of its boundless growth. And though it lies in pieces, I carry the lessons I learned from it with me wherever I go.