Thomas Macartney

2016-2017 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Thomas Macartney, 18
Honorable Mention, 17-18 Age Group
Bridges Academy
Santa Monica, California

The trees that survive above the tree line are often stunted. Without protection from older, larger trees, young trees are exposed to the harsh elements: winds buffet them from all sides causing them to twist and break, summer sun beats down for hours on end drying the soil and weakening roots, while winter hail and snow discourage new growth.  But with larger trees to protect them, these saplings grow and thrive to fulfill their potential as tall, fruitful specimens, providing food and shelter for other creatures, and in time, to other new young saplings. Thoreau urges us to “learn the lessons of nature,” such as the ones illustrated by the trees.  By observing nature we learn to embrace our moral responsibilities to other humans and the world itself.

In Thoreau’s journal, he describes an incident when he threw a stone at a chestnut tree and later regretted the decision. He had been so focused on obtaining chestnuts from the tree that he had forgotten his responsibility to preserve the tree, so it could provide nuts for future generations. With this story Thoreau reminds us that we must live a deliberate life full of humanity and meaning, being patient and mindful of the potential in ourselves and our fellow human beings.

Thoreau enjoins us to “cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil.”  I grew up without father, yet this very lack opening up other opportunities. As a middle and high school student, I benefited greatly from participation in the Big Brother program. My mentor provided me with companionship, academic and life advice, and was a role model for living a purposeful and thoughtful life. His generous nurturing and unswerving acceptance of me and where I was at any point in my life (i.e. the soil in which he found me), helped me to develop kindness, character and the confidence to do my best.  I absorbed his lessons and began my own journey of helping others through volunteer work.   The real life example of my Big Brother, along with that of my teachers and parents, illustrate the truth of Thoreau’s words and nature’s lessons: by helping young people grow emotionally and intellectually we create purpose in their lives and our own.

Thoreau’s words about trees can be taken quite literally as well: our moral responsibility is not limited to helping other people. If we want to “learn the lessons of nature” we must respect and protect the environment. Ever since I was little I’ve been concerned about this. When I was growing up, my mother would take me for walks along the seashore. The natural beauty around me was awe-inspiring, but a tiny piece of trash – a single candy wrapper on the beach – could mar the whole scene in my young mind. Yet is was quite easy to pick up, and my mother taught me to be a ‘trash troll, picking up whatever others had left behind.  I learned that even the tiniest efforts to protect the environment can really make a difference. And with the right programs in place – such as environmental awareness education and beach cleanup days- individual acts can be amplified to effect large-scale societal change that protect the natural world and contribute to our sense of connection to the web of life and each other.

I recently visited my Big Brother at his new home in Utah, where the pine trees tower majestically over humans leading lives within their communities. The peace of mind I felt surrounded by nature in Utah cemented my commitment to protecting the environment for future generations. Standing in the cool forest and sharing that moment and my thoughts with my Big Brother led me to further reflect on how his mentoring had truly borne fruit in my life. I also could now appreciate how being a mentor had enriched his life too. I am now about to set off to college and the wider world; it is time for me to take up the baton and pass on the gift of nurturing that was given me.   To that end I plan to become a Big Brother mentor in my local college community, passing on to the next generation of kids the lessons of leading a deliberate life full of meaning and humanity.