There once ruled over Bagdad a wise sultan who used to move incognito among his subjects. Being in disguise, he could see things as they really were. This way, he could see behind the masks people would put on whenever they met him in his royal capacity.
One day, he saw a very old man, who may even have been over a hundred years old, working in his garden. He was putting in small plants, but those were not of the seasol variety that matured to give fruit in a year. Those were cedars of Lebanon, mighty trees which grow one to two hundred feet high, taking hundreds of years to do so. And of course, they may live a thousand years, and are valued among the loveliest of trees.
The sultan was intrigued. After all, the old man could scarcely hope to see the next spring or two. He was fragile and doddering, bent with age. His hands shook as he watered the plants, he frequently stopped to rest. Any moment the angel of death could take him away.
So why was he planting those cedars? He would never be able to see them grow, take joy in their coming of age, and admire their stately grace as they begin to reach for the very stars.
Filly, the sultan could contain his curiosity no longer. He dismounted from his horse one day, walked over to the old man hard at his gardening, and said, “I ought not to interfere in your work, but there is a question I must ask.”
The old man smiled: “There is nothing to be shy about, my good man. Ask what you want.”
“My question is, you will never be able to see these trees come of age. Long before then, you will be gone…”
The old man interposed, “Yes, that’s true.”
The king said, “You know it, yet you go about raising them?”
Thoughtfully, the old man replied, “Do you see on the other side of my garden those tall Lebanon cedars? Had my forefathers not planted the seeds, I would have never seen them. And they are growing still! My forefathers were generous with those who followed them to be born in the family, with whom they would never be acquainted. Still they worked hard and created those monumental trees for their unknown visitors.
“Looking at those trees, I gather courage and work hard because certainly I will not be able to see their wonderful growth but others will. My children’s children or perhaps their children will be able to marvel when these cedars come into their full glory. It is enough that I am not betraying my forefathers. If they could trust in the future, in the unknown guest, I too can trust.”
The sultan thanked the old man and went his way. Being wise, he recognized a great truth when he saw one. Quite unexpectedly, he had stumbled upon the truth that his kingdom’s destiny should not come to a full stop when his end would come. It was his sacred duty to leave behind a structure that would empower his subjects. And a day would filly come when entire societies will chart their course, even as their rulers come and go…