November 22, 2006

To Plant The Tree of Tomorrow

There is a story told that, in a certain town, men and women toiled at work in order to survive. Everyday the men and women went out to their respective jobs: the men to the fields and the bean crops; the women to the firewood and the carrying of water. At times there was work that brought them together as equals. For example, men and women would join together for the cutting of coffee, when its time had come. And so it passed.

But there was a man who did not do that. He did work though, but not in the fields or bean crops, nor did he go to the coffee plantations when the beans reddened among the branches. No, this man worked planting trees in the mountain. The trees this man planted did not grow rapidly, all of them took entire decades to grow and to make all their branches and leaves. The other men laughed at and criticized this man quite a bit.

"Why do you work at things that you are never going to see completed? Better to work in the fields, which will give you fruit in months, and not in the planting of trees that will be large when you have already died." "You are a fool or crazy, because you work fruitlessly."

The man defended himself and said: "Yes, it is true, I am not going to see these trees full grown, full of branches, leaves and birds, nor will my eyes see children playing under their shade. But, if all of us work just for the present and for just the following day: who will plant the trees that our descendents are going to need, in order to have shelter, consolation and joy?"

No one understood him. The crazy or foolish man continued planting trees that he would not see, and sensible men and women continued planting and working for their present. Time passed, and all of them died, their children continued in their work, and those were followed by the children of their children.

One morning, a group of boys and girls went out for a walk and found a place filled with great trees, a thousand birds living in them and their great branches giving relief from the heat and protection from the rain. Yes, an entire mountainside was found filled with trees. The boys and girls returned to their town and spoke of this marvelous place.

The men and women gathered together and they went to the place in great surprise. "Who planted this?" they asked. No one knew. They went to speak with their elders and they did not know either. Only an old one, the oldest of the community, could give them the information and he told them the history of the crazy and foolish man.

The men and women met in assembly and had a discussion. They saw and understood the man whom their ancestors had dealt with and they admired that man very much and they were fond of him. They knew that memory can travel very far and arrive where no one can think or imagine, the men and women of that today in the place of the great trees.

They surrounded one that was in the center, and, out of colored letters, they made a sign. They had a fiesta afterwards, and dawn was already approaching when the last dancers were leaving to go to sleep. The great forest was left alone and in silence. It rained and it ceased to rain. The Moon came out and the Milky Way molded its convoluted body once again. Suddenly a ray of moonlight insinuated itself among the great branches and leaves of the tree in the center, and, by its small light, the sign of colors that had been left there could be read:

"To the first ones:

Those who came later did understand.

Health to you"

* * *

This that I am recounting to you was told to me fifteen years ago, and fifteen years had already passed when what they told me had come to pass. And yes, perhaps it would be pointless to say it in words because we say it with acts; but yes, those who came later did understand.

And if I am telling you this, it is not just to give our regards to the first ones, nor is it just to gift you with a little piece of that memory that would seem to be lost and forgotten. Not just for that, also to try and respond to the question of what the zapatistas want.

To plant the tree of the morning, that is what we want. We know that, in these frenetic times of "realistic" politics, of fallen banners, of polls that substitute for democracy, of neoliberal criminals who call for crusades against what they are hiding and that which feeds them, of chameleon-like transformations; in these times, to say that we want to plant the tree of the morning sounds foolish and crazy, which, regardless, has not become a theatrical phrase or an outdated utopia.

We know it, and, nonetheless, that is what we want. And that is what we are doing. How many people in the worlds that make up the world can say as we can say, that is, that they are doing what they want to do? We think there are many, that the worlds of the world are filled with crazy and foolish persons who are planting their respective trees for their respective tomorrows, and that the day will come when this mountainside of the universe, that some call "Planet Earth," will be filled with trees of all colors and there will be so many birds and comforts that, yes, it is likely that no one will remember the first ones, because all the yesterdays that are distressing us so today will be nothing more than an old page in the old book of the old history.

In that tree of tomorrow, a space where everyone is, where the other knows and respects the other others, and where the false light loses its last battle. If I were pressed to be precise, I would tell you that it is a place with democracy, liberty and justice: that is the tree of tomorrow.

- Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos from the Closing Words at the Encuentro in Defense of the Cultural Heritage, August 14, 1999 published in Our Word Is Our Weapon, selected writings


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