Sunday, January 31, 2016

Lyautey and Time

Marshall Lyautey was a soldier in Napoleon’s army and, while in Egypt, he collected seeds of a tree he admired. Upon his return to France he gave the seeds to his gardener and asked him to plant them that afternoon. The gardener recognized the type of seed and said, “My general, the tree from these seeds will take 100 years to bear fruit.” Lyautey thought for a moment and then said, “In that case, plant them tomorrow morning.”

This story is one that I seemed to have gotten backwards. I probably misread it the first time and that misreading has stuck with me. I recently searched the internet for this story and came across a reference to John F. Kennedy having told it. But his version is about hastening one’s pace and his account of the story has the Marshall initially telling his gardener to plant the seeds tomorrow only to learn of the 100 years it will take the trees to bear fruit and to which he says, “In that case, there is no time to lose, plant the seeds this afternoon.” I have loved this story – i.e. my version – for many years. I’ve always liked the seeming whimsy of planting it a day later in a 100 year growth cycle. And planting the seed “this afternoon” or “tomorrow morning” is charming nonsense in both versions.

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