In his book of poetry called the ‘First Duino Elegy’, Rilke asks the question: “Oh, to what can we turn in our need?”
“Perhaps”, he goes on to say, “there is a particular tree we see every day on the hillside that does not abandon us.”
I have such a tree. It is just outside my home at the far end of the backyard and is considered to be of such an age as to be called “pre-European”; meaning it is over 200 years old. Not old by Tasmanian standards where our old-growth trees can reach 500 years or more, but old none-the-less.
I’ve been watching the Olympic games and judging by the emotional breakdowns, evident despair and teary interviews of defeated athletes clutching “only” silver, it makes me wonder if our parents, our culture and our media are providing exemplary role models to teach our youngsters what success is really about.
Having been a competitive swimmer from the age of 13 till 21, I’m not just speaking as a couch coach. As far as I can recall, when either I or other team members took second place — or third or less — there wasn’t this overwhelming sense of being emotionally crushed as seems so much more evident today.
Was our emotional intelligence in the 60’s indicative of a heightened development of gracious humility? Or perhaps, because we grew up in working class Detroit without elitist pretensions in life, could this have simply been a display of low self esteem? I doubt it.
My hope is that our Olympic athletes return to their home towns and hug their friends and family. Following this, may they then search out the one special tree that has been patiently standing by to hug them.
Because ultimately — whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever work you do — a truly successful life is one that goes from loss to loss with enthusiasm.
The trees teach me this.