No matter how old we are, life teaches us new lessons every day.
I am 76 and still learning. Just a few years ago, while in my 60s, I learned an important life lesson that I shared with my then 5-year-old granddaughter, and now I would like to share it in this column.
Many years ago, we purchased the home we still live in today. The only tree in the backyard was a small maple tree, close to the patio. I wished the tree were bigger so it would give more shade. As the years went by, the tree got bigger and I got older.
I eventually added a three-seasons room over the patio and built a deck near the tree. I added plantings, including a small pond with a waterfall, under the tree. At night, I illuminated the tree with a spotlight. I really loved that tree. It was like we were friends.
However, even though the tree was now big and covered my deck and yard with shade during the hot summer, it also covered my roof with seed pods in the spring, which caused my gutters to clog up. As I got older, it became more of a problem every year.
Then one spring, frustrated with clogged gutters and my roof covered with seed pods, in a snap decision, I called a tree service company and had the tree cut down.
Within a few short hours, all that was left was a big stump. I walked over to the stump and sat down on it. As I sat there in the hot sun, I thought about the many years we spent together. I thought about the cool shade it provided, but now the shade was gone. I thought about the home the tree provided for songbirds like cardinals and chickadees. I thought about the beautiful color the tree displayed in the fall. I felt really sad, like I had just lost my best friend.
I thought, “Even though the tree annoyed me in the spring by shedding its seed pods, why did I get rid of such a good friend with so many good qualities? What if my friends cut me down or got rid of me because I had a bad habit?”
I felt sick. My friend, the maple tree, was gone. I realized that it took a lifetime to build a friendship, but one bad decision ended that friendship forever. As I sat there on the stump, I looked down at the ground and saw a few seed pods from the tree on the ground. Then I got an idea.
I picked one up, and planted it in a small pot of dirt. Within months, a small seedling began to grow. The following spring, I planted the small tree in my backyard, not far from where the old maple tree once stood. I knew that I would never enjoy its shade, but hoped that the next owner of my house would not only enjoy its shade, but its color in the fall and the sweet sounds of the songbirds perched on its branches.
This event in my life taught me three important lessons. First, it takes a long time to develop a friendship. Treat your friends with respect and never do or say anything hurtful, because you might lose your friend forever. Second, think first before taking action. Don’t act in haste or out of frustration. There were other solutions to my seed-pod problem—like adding gutter guards—but I didn’t think it through. And finally, we are all stewards of the earth. If we cut down a tree, it’s important to plant a new one.
After sharing my story with my granddaughter, I was inspired to write and illustrate a children’s book, “The Old Man and The Tree.” Over the past several years, I have visited thousands of second-grade students in classrooms all over Michigan, reading my story. At the end of each presentation, I give each child an autographed copy of my book. However, before they get a book, I ask them to recite the “Old Man’s Pledge” with me: “I promise to never cut down my friends.”
At age 66, I have managed to ruin three marriages. I was always out for me!
Selfish and “because I worked, I should get what I want,” I bought things for myself. Always had a good paying job, so the family didn’t suffer per se. But I was putting my needs first.
I went so far as to have adulterous relationships, ruining the three marriages, and ruining my relationship with my children. Not to mention what it did to my wife. All because I thought that I should have what I want when I want.
Now that I’m retired and missing out on so much of my children and grandchildren’s lives, I reflect back on what I did and how I got to this point.
My children have forgiven me, in their voices, but the damage is done and not forgotten. So I remain on the outside looking in. I take all the blame for my actions, knowing the pain that I caused so many people, because I was selfish and had adulterous relationships.
It is better today than it was last year, but I still see the pain from long past on my children’s faces.
Please take from this; don’t be selfish, put your family first, don’t think that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. And bring God into your life and follow His plan for you.
Dear Next Generation,
It’s your journey, make it a good one.
Develop a healthy relationship with yourself, learn to be your own best friend, and treat yourself with care and love.
Work hard at everything you do, it will build immunity against negative thinking and self-pity.
Eat nutritious foods and it’s OK to enjoy the cookies and ice cream.
Exercise your mind and body, always be learning and keeping yourself as fit and strong as possible.
Walk every day at least for 10 minutes and meditate on everything you have to be grateful for in your life, not only what’s good but even that things that challenge you.
Have the heart of a servant and the spirit of a warrior, always attempt to bring your best self to the world.
Put your faith in God, family, and yourself that everything is working for the betterment of all.
We are only here for a short time, so go out and live the life you have imagined. It’s really a beautiful journey.
Alex I. Gallego
What advice would you like to give to the younger generations?
We call on all of our readers to share the timeless values that define right and wrong, and pass the torch, if you will, through your wisdom and hard-earned experience. We feel that the passing down of this wisdom has diminished over time, and that only with a strong moral foundation can future generations thrive.
Send your advice, along with your full name, state, and contact information to NextGeneration@epochtimes.com or mail it to: Next Generation, The Epoch Times, 229 W. 28th St., Floor 7, New York, NY 10001