In February 1956, a devastating frost in the south of France destroyed six million of the country’s eight and a half million olive trees. As a result, most of the farmers cut down their olive trees and replanted with more profitable wine grapes. However, some diehard farmers refused to accept defeat. They believed the olive tree was the tree of eternity and they waited for the trees to re-grow, which they eventually did. Those trees are still producing fruit today, almost seventy years after a frost killed them.
This story captured my imagination with its message of hope, faith and patience. I reflected on the occasions I’d assumed some aspect of my life was over, only to have it resurrected. I was once estranged from a family member with whom I had a difficult relationship. We were never close and eventually stopped communicating. Almost twenty years later, I answered a knock on the door, to find that person standing on my doorstep, smiling broadly. Suddenly, the intervening years fell away and we hugged warmly, beginning a new chapter in our relationship. I’m currently working for an organisation I left twenty years ago; never envisaging I would one day return. And there are countless friendships which have been rekindled, long after I’d consigned them to history.
This is why the olive tree is such a powerful metaphor – it reminds us that nothing dies. Its root system is so robust that it’s capable of regenerating itself, even when the structure above the ground has been destroyed. This can just as easily apply to relationships, whether they are romantic, familial or business. What we see on the surface is just a façade and the truth is far more complicated. It’s too convenient to discard the past when it no longer serves us. To remember the grudges we bear or resentments we harbour, over petty squabbles which lost their sting years ago. But time, wisdom and maturity help put things in perspective and sow the seeds for reconciliation.
Nature is a great teacher. Any horticulturalist will tell you that when you prune a tree, it takes years for it to regenerate to bear good fruit. In a society encouraged to throw things away prematurely, we need to cultivate patience and perseverance. All too often, we let our emotions lead us, making rash judgements based on knee-jerk reactions. The olive tree encourages us to give things time. If the passion which once defined your relationship has evaporated, give it time. It may return. If you’re at the end of your tether trying to get your teenagers to focus on something other than their phones, let it go. In time, they’ll change. If your new business venture continues to stall, perhaps it’s a sign to take a break. You may return to it refreshed, with a new perspective. After all, anything of value takes time to bear fruit.
Take a moment today to reflect on your life. Have you discarded something too hastily, which still has value? Perhaps it’s a dream or an aspiration, rather than a person? Or perhaps it’s you that was discarded and you still bear the scars? Whatever it is, take heart from the olive tree and leave the door open. Nothing is beyond repair.