For a human character to reveal truly exceptional qualities, one must have the good fortune to be able to observe its performance over a great many years. If this performance is devoid of all egoism, if its guiding motive is unparalleled generosity, if in the end of all things it is absolutely certain that there is no thought of recompense and that in addition, it has left its visible mark upon the earth, then there can be no mistake.

Jean Giono had been inspired by Elezeard Bouffier to write these words in his book titled aptly enough, The Man Who Planted Trees. Bouffier was a shepherd who lost his wife and his only son in southern France shortly before the outbreak of World War I. Reminded possibly of his tragic loss, he became enamored of trees and resolved to rescue the land from its lack of them. He took it upon himself to plant one hundred acorns each day for almost as many years as life had remaining to him -- without recompense and remarkably, without interruption. Giono’s words would go on to serve as a fitting tribute to what he would go on to achieve and to the kind of person who this man would become -- humble and eager only to serve in the function which Providence had assigned him.

Bouffier did so in complete solitude undaunted by provincialism with his natural force unabated. "Let these things be" he must have said to himself. After thirty years had passed, the cascading effects of the marvelous work which he undertook more than half his life before, had begun to come forth. When water eventually came to the land, with it came the grasses, flowers, fields and of course, the trees. Forests took shape and grew and gardens eventually punctuated the landscape. Where there was desolation once, there was now hope and undoubtedly, a refreshing sense of purpose in simply being alive. Shortly before his death in Banon in 1947, he had, I imagine, become at long, long last a very great and a very happy man for he knew what happiness was and the way to it.

Bouffier derived it not by vacillating in the acquisition of that earthly dross which too often passes under the name of gold. His antecedent character was and remains unpolluted by any admixture of base metals but from diviner ones within him which he had from God: honor for himself, service to his community and its artifacts of growth and accomplishment for jobs well done.

Bouffier’s greatness was measured by the world in all he did. Selfless acts of service whether they go altogether unnoticed or are as keenly felt as his, enable us to find joy in the tedium of our own labor, meaning in the tumult of our own lives and solace in the ubiquitous and despondent nature of the fragility in the human condition. These are the very keys which unlock the power, pride and purpose in who we are and in all that we do.