The botanical basis of this proverb is clear enough. Because it takes a long time to grow a tree, to have a nice-sized tree today, one should have planted it 20 years ago. But the second part of the proverb makes it clear that there is no sense in putting off planting a tree into the future because they take so long to grow. In fact, because they take so long to grow, the sooner they are planted the better, and planting a tree today is preferable to planting one next week.
I’ve always liked this proverb and find it applies to many common dilemmas. The best time to resolve a disagreement with a family member or friend was probably the day after the disagreement. The next best time is today. The best time to see a doctor about a worrisome symptom was probably the day after you noticed the symptom. The next best time is today. The best time to start a large project at work or a term paper at school was shortly after the task was assigned. The next best time is today.
In many of these cases, the fact that one missed the “best” time may make it more difficult to do the task today. If it’s been a long time since you’ve spoken to a friend or family member, you may feel the need to explain the delay, or to explain why you chose now to contact them now. Someone afraid to see a doctor about a nagging symptom when it was first noticed, may feel that much more trepidation addressing it now, fearing that the condition may have worsened in the interim. And procrastinating on a project tends to make the project loom larger in the imagination the longer it’s been put off.But the proverb says today is the second best day to plant the tree. Today is not a bad day for planting; today is not too late. In fact, today is the second best of all possible days, the Silver Medal of days. And so much better than never.
The friend will not become easier to contact by letting more time go by. The symptom may not go away on its own and may get worse if not attended to. The project will become more difficult if the deadline looms. If you already missed your chance for the Gold Medal of days, be glad today you still have the chance to take the Silver.
One final example – the best time to re-start a lapsed blog was the week after a missed post. The next best time was today. So that’s what I did.