In January of 1910, President Taft was informed of a tree problem. The US department of Agriculture urged him to incinerate an entire shipment of 2,000 Sakura cherry blossom trees. To add awkwardness to the matter, the shipment had been sent from the mayor of Tokyo to the First Lady, Taft’s wife Nellie. It was a diplomatic sign of friendship and peaceful relations. And Taft was told to set it on fire.
The reason given for the burn was the overwhelming amount of invasive species within the trees that would cause “extreme danger” to the agricultural framework of the US. After careful thought and deliberation, the trees, all 2,000 of them, were burned.
You can imagine the awkward place this put everyone involved. The US apologized and explained the situation. To which the Mayor of Tokyo replied, “To be honest about it, it has been an American tradition to destroy cherry trees ever since your first President, George Washington! So there’s nothing to worry about. In fact, you should be feeling proud!” The humor, even if a tad passive aggressive, was welcome given how the situation could have been perceived.
The Japanese ended up sending over another shipment. This one properly inspected before being sent to make sure such species were free of an abundance of harmful insects. And now the same trees make up the beautiful cherry blossom groves of Potomac Park in Washington DC.
Often times in life wel feel obligated to oblige. Whether it’s guilt or shame or passive aggression imparted on us, built into a lot of our psyches is the reoccurring tendency to say “yes” even when we know we are in no shape whatsoever to do so. We over commit and over extend ourselves because we don’t want to let others down or feel insufficient.
But what happens when we take in or take on something that we aren’t able to support? What would’ve happened if those trees would’ve been planted? We know the answer to that question because it’s happened at different times with different invasive species. It would have killed millions of other types of plants. Like what happened to the American chestnut. A tree staple for our country now all but gone.
When we take on or take in without careful consideration of what we need or can handle, we burn out. We end up killing pieces of ourselves that would’ve thrived had we stood our ground and leaned into our needs. The world will keep spinning without you, without me. That’s not supposed to be dark, it’s supposed to be freeing.
Loosen your grip. Unclench your jaw. It’s okay to say no. To not take on something new. We must first tend to the gardens we currently have before we can go on planting something new. If you want to help other people, learn to help yourself first. Plants need fertile soil to thrive.
tree info for this post came from the wonderful book American Canopy by Eric Rutkow