When There is Nothing Left to Give

The_Giving_Tree

Last night I read the book, “The Giving Tree,” before tucking the muppets in for the night. It’s a book I remember from my childhood, as it has been a staple for generations.

As I closed the door to their room, I was overcome with nostalgia for reading comprehension. Don’t we all remember the days of an English professor requesting a 10-page paper on the subtext of what the author really meant. You’d spend days thinking, it’s about a tree. Maybe the author wanted the audience to understand IT’S ABOUT A TREE.

But it occurs to me that storytelling is the backbone of humanity for a reason. Oral history, mythology, epic poems, iambic pentameter, lectures, fiction, and, of course, stream of conscious.

Stories are what we remember. And, as innately selfish creatures, we recall most vividly the tales that touch us personally. In this way, authors write not with overt shove-down-your-throat metaphors, but with the strokes of emotion to which readers can individually envelop themselves – affected by the theme they most need at the moment.

Those are the stories we will remember.

Back to “The Giving Tree.” I think there is definitely a lesson to embrace.

Recap:

  • Childhood: Boy climbs, swings on branches and enjoys the arbor fruit.
  • Adolescence: Boy needs money; sells tree’s apples.
  • Adulthood: Boy wants a house; cuts tree’s branches.
  • Middle age: Boy wants a boat; cuts tree’s trunk.
  • Elder years: Tree has nothing left to give; boy just needs a quiet place to sit and rest – perfect match for a stump.

There are the standard analytical interpretations: unconditional love – whether parental or religious, conscientiousness for mother earth, or pure cynicism from within a take and take relationship.

But sometimes a tree is just a tree. The analogy that jumps out at me is simply life.

Children discover the world through innocent eyes. Everything is an exciting adventure. The heights of a tree’s branches are the peaks of Mt. Everest, while the magical fruit grown is a forbidden ambrosia to pluck. The world is a blank page of possibility.

Teenagers think they know everything. They are desperate to race forward into the trap of adulthood. The easy route is right in front of them – whether the choice of a weekend job or the quick sale of organic apples.

All too many adults seem to think reality is what ruins lives. Working for the weekend, we all need a place to live. Who wouldn’t want a home built on the memories of the freedom of childhood.

Middle age is when we finally grow up. It’s the turning point where we’ve put in our time and are ready for a boat – perhaps to sail the lake nearby which we grew up.

No one knows when the end will come. As we prepare to reach the other side of the mountain, there is much to be said about sitting down to reflect on all the trees we’ve climbed and journeys taken.

And the tree was happy.

Because the tree was there to watch the boy grow, transitioning to each stage of life. And each piece of the tree grows and develops with her boy. She is experiencing the days of life from seed to stump alongside him.

We grow. Our needs differ. The world seems to spin faster around us; it is all one can do to cling to something as strong as a tree for stability.

To some, it may very well be nothing more than a tree. To others, it is the circle of life ready to be passed on.

And the tree said, “Come readers, sit against me in the shade of a newly grown tree, and treasure the memory of youth.”

And the tree was now a landmark on the hiking trail for all continuing through time.

But before you think the final page of the book is the end for the tree, remember – many books are still printed on paper, pulped from the very types of tree that raised the boy.

There is still enough left to tell the story widely.

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