Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Tree of Life

I love big trees. A while back I was sitting under the Banyan Tree in Pakistan.  Recently I’ve been to visit the Tree of Life in Bahrain. 
The Tree of Life is remarkable. It lives all on its own on a small hill in the middle of a desert.  You can see how big it is by the size of the people beside it (including Sue, if you look very carefully). Apparently it’s over 400 years old.  It’s a member of the mesquite family, known for their very deep root systems which can tap water more than 50 metres below ground.

Local legends abound. One story is that the Tree of Life marks the location of the Garden of Eden, and the origins of our knowledge of good and evil.  Another is that it survives thanks to Enki, the Sumerian and Babylonian god of water, mischief and life.   It makes an appearance in the 1991 Steve Martin film L.A. Story, but has nothing whatsoever to do - thank goodness - with Terence Mallick’s pretentious Tree of Life film.
Sue and I get to see it just before sunset, after a tortuous journey through the oil and gas fields of central Bahrain.  There are no other trees or any vegetation in sight, just sand, rocks and a couple of gas flares burning in the distance.  There are a few other people there, Indians on their day off from jobs in the service or construction sectors. Our host, who’s lived in Bahrain for over 40 years, has never been to see the tree before.
It is easy to climb and sit in. Lots of signatures, hearts and dates are inked in its lower branches.   It doesn’t have the immense solidity and security of the Banyan. It’s a comfortable, friendly tree. The sort of tree you'd just like to hang out with for a while. No need to say much, maybe a bit of a chat about old times.  
The Tree of Life is deeply reassuring. It has survived and flourished in the some of the toughest conditions you can imagine, arid and hot, often over 50 degrees in high summer. It’s seen people come and go over the centuries: Portuguese and British, Iranians and Indians, Germans and Americans, Shias and Sunnis.  And it’s still there.  
Given the recent troubles in Bahrain, and the possibility of more to come, the Tree of Life is a powerful symbol of survival and resilience during tough times.
It lives on its little hill, untroubled by difficulties or events around it. As my favourite philosopher Spinoza says, it is 'persevering in its own being'.
It is.