years ago, before the current progress on nuclear disarmament, we took a break from work to examine our situation and recommit ourselves to serving humanity in the best possible way. We explored what that meant and realized that people who are happy and healthy, who are in touch with their own true power and ability to contribute, whose lives produce satisfaction, are people unlikely to make war. To us, a world at peace is a thriving world where people live in a healthy environment with food to eat and the freedom of choice and expression. In pursuing what we, as two individuals, could do to bring this about, the most powerful option was also the most practical: to keep doing what we do and to share it with others.
|We have the chance, quite simply, to be the first to live in final accord with our Spaceship Earth—and hence in final harmony with each other. The Ancient Greeks, the Renaissance communities, the founders of America, the Victorians enjoyed no such challenge as this. What a time to be alive!
The publicity surrounding TreePeople often is focused on our so-called heroic work. Although the personal attention is flattering, it misses the point. This work is wonderful and miraculous, but it is available to everyone. It might be novel to allow ourselves to be hailed as environmental, tree-planting saviors, but this work is profoundly local and personal, and everyone who embarks on this journey is a hero—or none of us are.
Our work feeds us. Planting and caring for trees, taking on challenges bigger than ourselves, building bridges of cooperation, solving problems creatively, seeing communities grow and strengthen, watching people come into their power, having a purpose, and knowing that we have made a difference in the lives of others produces a satisfaction so deep and fulfilling we feel like millionaires. In a sense, we are. Instead of dollars earned, millions of trees are planted and nurtured, lives are touched, and kids are turned on to caring.
This is the true joy in life: the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature, instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it, it is my privilege to do whatever I can. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me; it is a sort of bright torch which I have got hold of for a moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
I (Andy) started the work of TreePeople when I was fifteen years old. Although the vehicle was trees, my motivation was not a love of trees and the environment, but the search for a life of meaning in a world that appeared self-serving. In high school, I was starting to feel my power while the world was broadcasting the message that I couldn't really do anything or affect anything. It was frustrating and painful.
In the midst of this, I learned that the forest where I spent my summers was being killed by the drifting smog from Los Angeles. I spent three weeks with two dozen summer camp peers working like crazy to repair a piece of the dying forest by planting smog-tolerant trees. Instead of sitting around figuring out what to do for entertainment, we swung picks at rock-hard ground and shoveled cow manure. When it was done, we watched birds, squirrels, grass, flowers, and trees return to what had been a dead parking lot. Caring friendships developed while we were having what amounted to one of the highest times of our lives, and the experience filled me with ideas for repairing what I saw as an environmentally and socially-damaged world.
What followed was three years of repeatedly starting and failing before my project began to take shape. I had a lot of barriers to confront. I couldn't find role models; in fact it was quite the opposite. People who cared about the environment were portrayed on television as weird outcasts, and people who expressed concern over an issue were do-gooders. I didn't want to look like a freak. Although I was drawn to the work, I resisted it. If it worked, would I get stuck doing this for life?
I (Katie) was definitely not a do-gooder. In fact, I was a pretty average, sort of ignorant person who rode a motorcycle and jumped out of airplanes.
When I met Andy, I'd never even planted a tree. I'd had a lot of fun working my way up the advertising ladder, grabbing a Clio award on the way, and had reached the rung called "Is that all there is?" I was a yuppie before the yuppies. With everything in front of me, life started to crumble. The trappings of corporate power had me trapped. How could I survive without a huge salary? What could I do to earn money? Copywriting was so easy!
Ironically, I also felt powerless. With so much on earth to be done, my nine-to-five seemed like just marking time. I was happiest volunteering, giving something back, using my powers of persuasion for things that could make the world a better place and relieve the suffering of others.
I began to understand the difference between what society defines as power and success and what power and success truly are, as demonstrated by individuals who feel and see and touch the positive changes they're making in the world. I wanted to find a way to share and nurture the blossoming of real power in others. In a moment of rare objectivity, while standing in my air conditioned office next to my ficus that I didn't even know was a ficus, I was able to say, "When you've given this up, and the money starts looking attractive, remember this instant; the money's not worth it!"
A conference came to Melbourne, Australia, where I was living, and one of the speakers was a young man whose dream was to see a million trees planted in Los Angeles. "What do you do?" he asked. "I write," I replied. "Boy, oh boy, could TreePeople use a writer!" he exclaimed. We were married and are living happily ever after.