Copyright 2012 © by Ramsay Taum
The twinkle in his eye told me he had heard me and now I was in trouble. I hadn’t done anything inappropriate or wrong, but instead had asked a question that would be the source of a simple but powerful lesson.
Earlier that day I received a phone call from “Papa” who simply said, “Boy, come pick me up,” words that never failed to get my heart racing and my feet moving. A recognized and respected kupuna (elder) and community leader Papa had become a mentor, and at times a tormentor sending me off on quests for information and “intelligence” only to learn later he had the information all along.
On this particular day we were seated at his favorite table, strategically located in a dining room frequented by many of Honolulu’s movers and shakers. As they passed each would greet him with a handshake, pat on the back or hug, while acknowledging one or more of his titles earned over many years of community service. I sat as a witness, impressed and in wonder like a fern among redwoods.
“Papa, how did you get to be who and where you are?” I asked. At first it appeared he didn’t hear me so I repeated my question, “Papa how did you get to be who and where you are today?”
After what seemed like an eternity, he put his fork down, wiped the corners of his mouth and pointed to a tree standing in the court yard and asked me, “Boy what kind of tree is that?” Cautiously, I gathered myself and carefully answered, “It’s a monkey pod tree.” He smiled and resumed eating.
A few minutes later he looked up from his plate again pointing to a smaller tree occupying the opposite corner of the courtyard repeating his question, “What kind of tree is that?”
This time with a little more confidence I responded, “Its a monkey pod tree.”
He smiled at me with a look of accomplishment and replied, “That’s how,” and returned to his meal.
Confused at first, it took me a minute to realize that he had craftily exposed the true question nested in the the one that I had asked him which had less to do with how he arrived at his station in life, and more to do with how I could get there! Papa’s two word response to my question was reduced to a single one: Time!
The grin on my face invited an explanation that with proper treatment, care and nutrition supported by a healthy and safe environment, in time a small monkey pod will eventually grow into a large one providing shelter for some, and shade for others. But the lesson didn’t end there.
To my surprise he then asked me to describe what was growing under the larger of the two monkey pods. When I told him I didn’t see anything growing there he once again smiled and pointed out that there are very few things that can grow in the shade of a monkey pod.
Papa’s message was simple but profound. In time the little tree would become a big one, but not if it tried to grow in the shadow of the other. Eventually each of us must step out from under the canopies that comfort and shelter us if we hope to some day do the same for others.
Perhaps an equally important lesson learned that day was that the answers we seek are only as good as the questions we ask!