Paths to Immortality

Like many of you, I’ve been staying mostly at home since March of 2020. That was when Covid-19 was just beginning to spread in the US, causing so many uncertainties and apprehension.

Fifteen months have gone by – months that have seemed like years – and I have done quite a lot of thinking. I realized that I have already published seven books, with another one rolling off the press in two weeks.

I said to myself, “So what?” I am not ready to celebrate my legacy yet or, as people may say of writers, my being immortal. The measure of a person after all is not in the number of books that one publishes.

Years ago, a classmate of mine remarked that writing a book is one of the three conditions to be immortal. The other two are planting a tree and having a son.

His basis or reasoning is rooted in the adage “plant a tree, have a son, write a book” which will live on after we’re gone from this earth, guaranteeing our immortality.

My friend’s claim sparked a few questions in my mind: Why does it have to be a son? Why not a daughter? Why not build a beautiful vegetable garden rather than planting a tree? Why not learn how to paint instead of writing a book?

For sure, the adage does not apply to me personally.

For one, I’ve only met one of the three conditions, that of writing a book. I have not sired a son; neither have I planted a tree. Following the logic behind the adage, it looks like that I am perpetually bound to my own mortality.

At my age, and even if I try to, I can no longer have the strength, discipline, and the stamina to raise a newly born human being and see him succeed in his earthly journey. That would be tragic. That’s not what fatherhood is all about

It may also be too late for me to plant a tree. It takes years for any tree to become mature and I may no longer have the time to regularly trim, fertilize and maintain any tree that I may decide to plant. Soon it will die.

This adage must have originated from China where, from early times, men had been considered superior, assertive and dominating compared to women who were considered soft and passive.

I, therefore, do not like the male characterization or interpretation that is implied in the adage. Truth be told, I even find it sexist. I don’t think that the path to immortality should be gender based.

I wonder if my classmate inadvertently missed the exact quote.

To check its accuracy, I did a quick online search for the quote’s provenance. The exact quotation that I found is: “Plant a tree, have a child, write a book.” It is attributed to the Talmud and Jose Marti, the Cuban revolutionary and poet.

It does not say “to have a son” but “to have a child” which is more generic and gender sensitive.

It appears that with the advent of modernization and the movement for gender equality, the quote has lost its male-dominated meaning. The quote is also now addressed not only to a man but to every person.

I have this sneaking suspicion that the “have a son variant” is just another interpretation by those whose thinking is still influenced by the machismo mentality.

Since the prospect of me becoming immortal based on the “plant a tree, have a son, write a book” mantra is nil, there are ways that I can still discover the paths to immortality.

By being creative, I can introduce variations to the original adage – instead of planting trees, plant flowers that people can appreciate; instead of having a son, support my daughters in their undertakings; instead of writing a book, learn how to paint. I can even live meaningfully and productively through my grandchildren and my social advocacies. The alternatives are limitless.

In short, whatever it is that we decide to do, always be the best in what we are doing. Live well and make the world a better place. The task does not have to be something epoch-making. But no matter how small, leave a legacy that our friends and loved ones can be proud of. These good deeds that we’ll leave behind are what will make us immortal.