About a year ago I got spinning down a rabbit trail on what was the oldest tree in the world. As with all such superlatives (biggest, tallest, oldest, etc), there is something awe inspiring to me to think about a tree that was born about the same time humans were inventing written language.
But this whole superlative game of living organisms has a total game changer. Move over Prometheus and Methuselah, it doesn’t matter how much we pin down your hypothetical your age Llangernyw Yew, because welcome in Pando. The game changer of all game changers.
Because you see, Pando cheats. Pando isn’t a tree. He is a colony of tree. (No plural there.) Pando, meaning “I spread” and sometimes also known as Trembling Giant, is a male quaking aspen. But he is also a clonal colony, a single root system that sends up thousands of shoots… and each one looks like its own tree. But they are all one. Prado can literally use the royal we. And he encompasses 106 acres, is believed to be something like 80,000 years old, and is the world’s most massive organism.
And that is one more reminder to me that in an ever-changing world there is no greater chance of survival than going through life as a community. ‘We are stronger together’ is not just a nice sounding slogan. In fact, its right there in our own evolution. Human beings individually aren’t all that much. We are lacking a lot of good natural advantages for survival bar one: the ability to create, sustain, and grow together.
Whether its our institutions, churches, schools, businesses, families, or lives… the more connected we are to a larger collective story the more likely we are to weather the ups and downs, ins and outs, life and death all around us.
Shared roots; collective strength; collaborative endeavors.
I have a colleague who reminds me that every time we walk in a meeting we should be seeking to be the most collaborative people in the room. I am reminded again and again that my mission ought to always be more important than me. And yet… somehow we are constantly drawn away into attempts to be self-contained, ego-driven, rugged individualists who hate group projects. It romantic to imagine that I’m able to stand alone, and its freeing to go wherever the day takes us without any obligation to anyone or anything else.
Until you stumble.
Until disease strikes.
Until… life (and death) happens.
And then? It is, sadly, usually, too late. Roots take a long time to grow, and communities must be nurtured. You cannot make withdraws from an account where you have made no deposits.*
So for all my own introverted and self-reliant tendencies… and for all the romance of being the rugged individualists, I will turn back to Pando and ask him question after question. For he has much to teach us. …of deep roots, interwoven life, and how eternity lies in community.
*I have the tendency to always want to qualify my statements. So let me qualify this statement: You may be able to connect with a community who will help you when you falter even though you have never before been a part of it. I certainly hope so, and endeavor to lead just such a community. But that only works if enough people make, and sustain, such communities. Its like herd-immunity. It only works if enough people participate in it. I fervently believe that individualism is an unsustainable way to live propped up on the good will of other people. A world that seeks ever increasing connection and mutual support is the best and brightest hope for your future, my future, our future.