Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Giving Tree

I’ve always enjoyed reading, especially children’s books. My collection has started to grow and as I read these lessons, I’ve started to notice how well they can be applied even as I get older. In this one story in particular, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein*, it tells a bittersweet tale of love between a boy and a tree. Every time I read the book, I would tear up. This most recent read, I teared up for different reasons. The message, in my perspective- based on my experiences, has changed over the years- and I find myself wanting to change the ending.

The Giving Tree encapsulates the relationship between a Boy and a Tree. At any given point in the Boy’s life the Tree would give it anything it needs to make the boy happy. The Tree loves the Boy with it’s whole heart and wants nothing but the Boy’s happiness in return. As a young Boy, the demands that he has from the tree are companionship: climbing on her branches, eating her apples, and resting on her trunk. But as the Boy grows older he needs more from the tree- her apples so that he can sell them and earn a living, her branches- so that he can build a home. The boy’s demands and needs become so much that the tree gives the boy everything- so much so all she is left with is a stump.

When I was younger, I read this story and thought, wow, what a wonderful story about giving to those that you love and only wanting their happiness in return. But as I grow older, the story brings on a whole other side of sadness to me. I started to realize that in many relationships, there were two roles- The Tree and the Boy- the one who gives until she has nothing left to give and the one who takes until they have everything they need. As I look back, I’ve been both roles to different people. The line that resonates best with me is when the tree gives the Boy her trunk so that he can make a boat and float far away, this is the point where the Tree had given everything it had to the Boy and there was nothing left for her to give him or to anyone else - “ and the tree was happy.... but not really.”

This got me thinking about my past relationships and how far I would go to make the other person happy- even if it meant giving up myself. And his line “and the tree was happy... but not really” is something that speaks volumes to me. So often, there is one person in a relationship that is too giving and even as a stump they still provide to those that they love. But when does giving become destructive to the Tree? In this tale, is there a point where the Tree should have said, No, I am not going to give you everything that I have and teach the boy that there is a point where you can’t give anymore nor should you ask for too much? I’m starting to think that there is a point that the tree should have said, enough is enough. I believe that point is right before Silverstein says “and the tree was happy- but not really”. To me, this is the point in the story where the Tree has sacrificed it’s happiness for the sake of the happiness of the Boy. This, to me, is where giving becomes destructive. If I could rewrite the ending to this story- I would not have had the Tree give until she was unhappy. I would have ended the story with the Tree telling the boy that she has nothing left to give him without giving up herself. And I would have allowed her to keep herself in tact perhaps then she would be able to give to another little boy - where all he needed was her companionship.

* The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein- purchase it online at to read the full story.