I read The Giving Tree to my son last night. Twice. His request.
Honestly, it’s a strange book.
Is the tree supposed to represent his mom? Motherhood consists of mutual love and admiration (also known as the child swing on the tree, eating apples and playing in it’s shade) until the child outgrows the mother? And the mom continues to give everything (apples for money, branches for a house, tree trunk for a boat) until she’s an unhappy stump? And finally the boy comes back to her, sits on her, and that makes her happy?
I’m not saying that the boy needs to learn to say thank you. Because I didn’t chose to become a mom for the pats on the back. (Maybe a few back rubs from my husband though.) My kids can pat their own kids if they want to thank me. But perhaps the tree needs to figure out what makes HER happy. Because as a stump, the book suggests that she is NOT happy. And maybe she’s little bit too needy since she is only happy once again when the boy (now an old man) sits on her.
And the boy? Well this happiness problem is multigenerational. He thinks money, a wife, children, and finally a boat to escape, will make him happy. But they are clearly temporary solutions. Is he ever TRULY happy? He seems his happiest as a child playing in the tree. But who wants to burn out their bright star as a ten year old?
Is this a sad story of the state of our needy culture always looking for the next thing, the next event, to make us distracted and happy? Or the other side of our needy culture, where we sit around waiting to be martyrs and give and give thinking if the people that I love are happy, I’ll be happy? That our happiness is conditional on others and not on our own wellness? What if the people we love are unable to be happy?
And is happiness so easily won? Just by giving? Didn’t Mother Teresa give of herself constantly and felt more often than not that she was tormented and alone?
Does this mean we should KEEP instead of GIVE. The Tree That Said No. The Boy Who Found Happiness Without A Tree.
I finally read the synopsis of the book by the publisher:
‘Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.’
So begins a story of unforgettable perception, beautifully written and illustrated by the gifted and versatile Shel Silverstein.
Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk…and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave and gave.
This is a tender story, touched with sadness, aglow with consolation. Shel Silverstein has created a moving parable for readers of all ages that offers an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another’s capacity to love in return.
So the book is about giving without expectation. And about accepting another person’s limits and ability to love. Well, I can hang with that because that is the essence of life. Learning to give for the sake of giving and not for a thank you or a parade (although I LIKE PARADES). And meeting people where they’re at — not expecting them to be what I WANT or NEED. But expecting them to be who they are. And maybe even learning to LOVE who they are.
Perhaps the tree always knew the boy’s faults and inability to love her back, but loved him anyway. And the tree may have given for the wrong reasons — longing to make a boy happy who couldn’t be happy. But maybe the boy’s taking MADE the tree happy. The taking in and of itself allowed the tree to feel useful. Maybe the tree becomes unhappy as a stump because she believes that she has no more to give; therefore, is useless.
And in the end, through their faults and misplaced love, they’re okay. Maybe the tree and the boy are even happy on the final page. Old and stumpy. But happy. And who doesn’t want that?