You may not realize that Central Park is teeming with ‘biological seed dispersal agents,’ as Wikipedia refers to squirrels.

When a squirrel takes an acorn and buries it at a distance from the tree for future use, the acorn effectively ‘dies.’ If the squirrel doesn’t remember to come back and eat the acorn, it will germinate and become an oak tree in time. After twenty years, the tree will be mature enough to produce acorns of its own, although oaks must sometimes be 40-50 years old before producing a successful seed crop.

A gift is like a seed.

We give these gifts, like acorns, and we die to their alternate use. A gift of money—by way of its transformative death, a metamorphosis—converts the cash from potential to kinetic energy. A group of hedge fund managers give millions each spring to fund New York City nonprofits. An elderly lady gives $100 each month from her social security check to the Bowery Mission to help the poor on the Lower East Side. A widow of a fast food chain bequeaths her billions, a portion of which is donated to the Salvation Army in inner city Boston to build a community center. Acts like these are the trunk, branches and leaves of a new oak tree in New York and cities like it.

A zen koan reads, ‘What the caterpillar calls “the end,” the Master calls “a butterfly.”’ Jesus said shortly before his death, ‘I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds’ (John 12:24).

When we live for the sake of others, we find true life, which the Greeks called zoë.

photo: andy laing