On March 1, 2019, a child was born.
His parents named him Cedar Abraham Haidar. Their first-born son.
When I first learned of little Cedar’s arrival in this world, I was curious. Why Cedar? Why a name that grew straight out of the forest? After all, this baby boy’s parents—Mark and Claire Haidar—are urban entrepreneurs who live in Dallas, Texas, where you’re more likely to see trees of oak or ash (there is a native species called a cedar elm, but that’s more elm than cedar). True cedars flourish in Lebanon, a world away from Dallas.
On the last official day of winter, I had the chance to talk with Cedar’s dad, Mark Haidar (also father to young Mariam), to learn a little about the naming. Mark took time out from a tight schedule at his company Vinli, to share what is a much longer story that begins with the Ottoman Empire—and some very resilient survivors who fled to the mountains in Lebanon to make their home in desolate surroundings, because, as Mark explained, “Our religion was not their religion. We were not allowed to exist.”
These survivors worked for years to turn rocky soil into arable earth. Nothing much would grow at that altitude, so the family settled on planting olive trees. Every few years, they would make olive oil, put the precious burden on a donkey and travel to Jerusalem to sell the oil. This was Mark’s great-grandfather and later his grandfather. Mark himself never saw this special land he’d heard about, until he was 17 and the region had been liberated. He remembers, poignantly and well, first seeing the olive trees up on the mountain. He recognizes that he comes from a line of resilient people who turned a rocky refuge into an olive-rich home.
Today Mark and his wife Claire both live far from their countries of origin. As Mark puts it, their roots are in Lebanon and South Africa respectively, but their branches are here in the U.S. It’s a metaphor that runs deep for them. And it’s part of why they named their son Cedar. But it’s also part of why love first planted a thousand trees.
By the time the couple married under one of the oldest cedar trees in Lebanon, they had already trekked together to inhospitable places, visiting refugees and helping rebuild the lives of children who have suffered unspeakable loss. Together with the Dallas community, the Haidars have raised millions of dollars for UNICEF. These entrepreneurs are people who are among the “up and coming” in the tech world, but they are also people who look back and remember the roots that gave them their beginnings and continue to give them strength.
Regarding strength, a quality that people sometimes associate with manhood, Mark has been reconsidering. He’s been redefining what manhood means. It is not just “toughness.” It’s something more. Manhood, to Mark, is contributing significantly to the lives of others, building a legacy that outlasts the man himself. He says, “There’s nothing more manly than contributing to the lives of others.” Further, he’s been asking what feels like a more central question—for anyone: What does it mean to be human?
Trees, especially cedar trees, help answer this question for him, through their very being. Mark notes that despite their strength and longevity (some of the oldest cedars are 1,000 to 2,000 years old!), they are sensitive, only growing at a very particular altitude. They reach for the sky, he says, yet they are rooted. Their trunks can achieve widths of 8’2″ and they have a maximum height of about 130 feet, after which “they grow in new ways. Their character starts changing, the shape of the tree starts changing.” And trees give to the world, he notes, providing vital oxygen for people, protection, and pleasant shade. Though they sometimes face tough winters, they weather it, he says, and spring comes to the tree and to the system it freely gives to, even as it draws from that system.
cedars of lebanon photo by ted swedenburg, creative commons, via flickr
In the season when wild iris blooms in Lebanon, Mark and Claire married on a mountain that is rich with history. The golden sun shone through the ancient cedar they’d chosen to stand beneath. You could see for miles. Their vows included references to trees. Why? Trees mean resilience and legacy. They provide metaphor and the meaning of actual gifts to people—much like Mark and Claire want their own lives to do, much like their love for each other does.
Before they met, Mark says he engaged in the more ordinary human tendency of “looking forward, always looking forward to what’s next,” but after Claire came into his life he was surprised to find something new happening. “We’re looking around,” he says. “Whatever we have at the moment is more than enough. We started seeing how a lot of the beauty of life brings contentment, peace of mind and peacefulness.”
There are so many ways to show love, especially when love has an effect as deep as it has obviously had for Mark and Claire. Typically, people buy things for one another. Popular objects, big experiences. Not this couple. They wanted something that would outlast them. Says Mark, “We wanted to make this moment as eternal as possible.”
So, love planted a thousand trees.
Near the cedar where they exchanged vows, Mark and Claire had identified some open land. After their marriage, they then worked with a professor who specializes in tree planting, along with a preserve and the local municipality, to plant what they hope will become a forest that their grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond will someday visit. When they visit, Mark hopes they’ll understand that two people made a difference, two people thought ahead to what they wanted the world to be like in the future.
Where did the thousand trees come from? The preserve already had seedlings available, and people from the nearby villages provided the planting manpower. Now all they need to do is keep the goats at bay, because goats are plentiful and unfussy about what they eat; the goat warding-off will be the work of the preserve.
Mark emphasizes that anyone can choose to plant trees, and you don’t have to plant a thousand.
He says that eventually, for himself and others, the question comes, “How did you live your life and how did you impact others? The stronger the legacy, the more lasting the impact.” And he likes to remember a favorite poetic quote from Khalil Gibran’s Sand and Foam...
“I am forever walking upon these shores,
Betwixt the sand and the foam,
The high tide will erase my footprints,
And the wind will blow away the foam,
But the sea and the shore will remain forever.”
A thousand cedar trees won’t quite last forever, but they could last more than a thousand years. That’s quite the legacy, when you consider it. And it’s quite the expression of love.
When I asked Mark how he hopes his deeply-loved little Cedar will live into his name, he said he wouldn’t want to pressure his son, but he does have wisdom and wishes for him: “Reach for the sky, but remember your roots. Try to leave a legacy that will last a long time. Look forward, but look around. Learn to be content in yourself.”
If his son does that, says Mark, “I think he will live up to his name.”
cedars of lebanon photo by joseph younis, creative commons, via flickr