“Old men plant trees under whose shade they will never sit

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, June 26, 2014

“Old men plant trees under whose shade they will never sit”

Yesterday I hung out a load of laundry. It was a white load, made up mostly of sheets and pillowcases. When the cool, crisp spring wind is blowing, as it was yesterday, the sheets come back in smelling sweet and fresh, and the wind has ‘ironed’ out all the wrinkles.
One of the pillowcases that I hung up was given to us as a wedding present. It’s made of fine count cotton percale, with an embroidered pink (pearl cotton) scalloped pattern that covers up the stitching of the open-end hem. Many of you can picture that particular pillowcase because the style was very popular when we got married, in 1972.
What crossed my mind, as I was putting the clothespin on the corner, was how well that one pillowcase had served us, for 42 years. And it’s not worn out yet. It was part of a fairly expensive set, yet I suspect that it was really not so expensive when its length of service is considered. Do we buy anything with the expectation that it will last 40 years or more? And should I mention that the best towels that we have now were a wedding present for my parents in 1938? The 1938 bath towel is smaller than towels we have now; isn’t that called super-sizing? But the towel is the most absorbent towel that we have in the house. And what’s a towel for? To wrap around us ands make us look sensual? NOT. It’s to dry us off. If all our linens were made with the thought of lasting a long time, we’d only need one or two towel sets for our entire lives. Yet how many have we bought, used, and thrown away because they were threadbare? How many of those are part of the landfill? Lots.
Surely you know about the concept of Seven-generation sustainability, an ecological concept that urges the current generation of humans to live sustainably and work for the benefit of the seventh generation into the future. It is part of the Great Law of the Iroquois – to think seven generations ahead and decide whether the decisions we make today will benefit children seven generations into the future.
In all of your deliberations…, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion….. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn. …of the future….
That’s a great idea, but I can’t fathom what it will be like that far in the future. It’s hard enough for me to imagine what it was like for folks seven generations before us. I remember my grand parents; I remember what their house looked like, what they ate and wore, and how they lived. I can even imagine what it must have been like for them as children, and maybe what my great-grandparents were like, and what their world must have been like. My grandmother was born in 1889. That’s about as far back as my imagination can carry me.
Now, thinking about the future, seven generations is too far to imagine. I look at our granddaughter, and I try to imagine what it might be like for her when she is a mother trying to raise children. Will there be any parks to walk in? Will there be air clean enough for her to take the children out to play on a still day? Will she raise her children a temperature controlled home in front of the computer so that her grandchildren will be completely divorced from our natural world?
I can see our granddaughter. I make choices every day as to what to buy, where to go and how to get there, what trees to cut or not cut, what to eat, how to live. I can make choices based upon what I imagine those choices will mean for my granddaughter and her children. That’s as far as my imagination and reason can take me.
I think that life for the Iroquois was a bit slower than life is for us. If we can live according to what will be best for the third generation in the future, maybe that’s all we can do. And it won’t be easy. I hope that’s good enough.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox