'The Giving Tree': Be Yourself and Become It

The Trees Around me
The more time I spend outside among trees, the less interested I am in thinking about anything but the trees when I am out there. I am not alone; instead, I am aware that I am with the trees, with the grass and the grapevine, with the flowers and flowing creeks and the myriad other lives these things sustain. In that awareness, I see their story: stone walls emerge from unlikely places, stands of old pines give shade and shelter to livestock, grapevines fill the air with the sweet scent of summer past its prime, swallows rise up with mysterious purpose as darkness falls.

I watch as thick maples reach across country roads become the first to turn colors in late summer. I ache when I see this because I realize they are first to turn because they are exposed to the elements as well as to the relentless press of passing cars. All of us who drive by are killing that tree.

Out for a walk along an old country lane yesterday, the new crushed stone on the road and the stink of oil put a wedge between me and these vast, silent friends. My mind wandered to the things of the inside world, to books--to Shel Silverstein's fable The Giving Tree. I had always thought of that story of limitless giving as an analogue of the Christ story. If I see it that way right now, it is because I think of the Christ story as being like a tree story.

The Giving Tree
The Giving Tree
is the story of the relationship between a man and a tree. As a child, the boy loves the tree as a friend, as a source of comfort and safety, as a hideaway. As he grows up, it becomes the place where he courts girls. From one of its boughs he carves a canoe. From its branches he gathers its fruit and sells it. After he grows up and moves away, he forgets the tree; nevertheless, it prevails winter after winter alone.

Eventually, the man grows old. Just as when he was a little boy, he is alone when he returns to the tree. In the end, he chops the tree down and uses all the wood for his benefit. When he is very alone and tired, he takes his rest on the stump.

It seems to me, though, that the tree doesn't actually give anything. Rather, this human being takes everything to satisfy his ever emerging needs. Is the man selfish and mean for taking, taking, taking? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps he is simply filling his needs as they arise. That is his nature. In the same way, it is the tree's nature to be shade and sanctuary and to be of a substance that is a source of food and a resource for building many useful things. Perhaps the human being in this story simply recognizes the tree for what it is by nature just as he is himself by nature. This is simply the way it is.

If there is a lesson in this tree, it seems to me that in accepting yourself for who you are, you become like a gift in every way. Giving your gifts becomes a matter of being yourself, just as it is for this tree. You naturally and easily become a source of compassion and love.

Take, Take, Take
I heard one reader of The Giving Tree remark that the man was very selfish and that he did not appreciate all that the tree gave. I have thought about that comment for a long time. Her comments take me back to church.
Somewhere along the way, it seems Christian churches have made a virtue of victimhood; living faithfully has become synonymous with being misunderstood and underappreciated. I don't think being appreciated matters to the tree. The tree would be a tree with or without the human being.

Eighty Percent of Life is Showing up
This reader's comment also takes me back to the story's analogue with the Christ story. I don't think the tree needed to be appreciated any more than Jesus needed to be appreciated to be Jesus. History bears that one out. Jesus gave because it was his nature to do that. He, like the tree, gave with a full and open heart, not out of bitterness and resentment.

I think his point was that we could be like him if we would realize our true nature, too. Then it becomes inevitable, like waking up and breathing, like just plain being there.


  1. I love The Giving Tree. That was a lovely post.

  2. Thanks so much. I love the story, too. I wish to be like that ol' tree!


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