by a Blog Reader

At the entrance of the Cospicua Home for the elderly, there is a potted cedar tree with its leaves withering away. Attached to it is an A4 paper with a notice tucked in a plastic jacket. The notice reads: “In order to help preserve the environment, this tree will be planted in Cospicua. A way for making up for the regular use of paper.”

Bormla cedar tree

The notice doesn’t tell us how it will make up for the regular use of paper.

About two weeks after this photo was taken, a truckload of toilet paper arrived unexpectedly at the home. Towering boxes of toilet paper were left behind by the truck, in the entrance hall. The pot was moved against another wall to make way for the massive cardboard boxes. It could have held its ground as a substitute for the toilet paper. It would have been a terrible mistake if it did, as we know from the Greek fable about the oak and the reed. The rigid oak was blown over by the storm, but the reed bent with the wind and survived. The humble cedar pot lent all the space required, and Bormla’s use of paper continues unabated.

The rigid and mighty oak tree in the fable is reputed to have bragged about its own strength. But the storm broke it and brought it “on a level with the roots that touched the empire of the dead”. The story suggests that rulers may not be as powerful as they assume themselves to be. Here is Achille Michallon’s painting, now at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, as a reminder to powerful politicians.

Achille Michallon’s painting of the oak & the reed

We don’t know if the cedar tree will ever be planted outside. Most of Bormla’s inhabitants, over 5000 strong, may not know anything about it or the fate that awaits it as it dies away. In its opening paragraph about Cospicua, Wikipedia describes it as “the most dense city of the Three Cities.” “Dense” is not the most complimentary adjective to describe a community. Density also doesn’t augur well for a tree to find its spot in whatever little greenery is left in the city.

The motto “I bend and do not break” (“flangar non flectat,” in Latin) was adopted by the priests of Bormla in the 19th century when the town became a collegiate church. In the face of moral peril, they were determined to follow the reed’s example and nimbly hold on to their cherished values without snapping. The church adopted it and the elderly at the Cospicua Home still cling to it. Every day they shuffle down to the ground floor to hear Mass, and to say the rosary as can be seen in the photo. They are weak, many of them lonely, and physically falling apart. But they tenaciously cling on to any medical respite they can get and the Force that spiritually will open for them the door to peace and radiant light. This is how a true Bormliż moves on to eternal glory, sustained by the wisdom of the ages.

3. The Rosary at the Cospicua Home

Mintoff, a fiery son of Bormla, was aware of the motto, used it and made it his own. Then came another son of Bormla, born in the same city, Keith Schembri who is now seeing his fate sink under a sea of paper records that tie him to everything criminal and hideous, from the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia to stealing mind boggling amounts from the taxpayer.  I wonder if the cedar tree was meant to be his prophetic warning. He was obstinate and defiant like the imperious oak. He opened dubious bank accounts within days of occupying Castille. His greed towered above stringent financial rules and regulations. Now it may be too late for him to do anything. The withering of the tree could well be tied to its expired usefulness for the king’s court.

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