Giving Tree IMG_0191

For her bed time story one night this week our six-year-old grandchild chose The Giving Tree. As is often true the simplicity of a child’s tale taps the complexity of an elder’s painfully acquired perspectives.

First published fifty years ago Shel Sliverstein’s story has been interpreted in a variety of ways from a parable of unconditional love to the “me” generation’s exploitive narcissism. (The boy takes everything – fruit, branches and trunk).

When I asked what she liked about the story, our granddaughter had two answers: the tree kept giving and giving and the boy kept getting older and older until all he wanted was to rest on the stump that remained.

The story offers several questions for our reflection. To what extent do we give? To what extent do we take? How do we receive?

Have we identified what it is that we have to give in life? Do we give freely without expecting anything in return? Do we give “it” all away because that may be safer than risking the request for reciprocity?

Do we take without considering consequences, oblivious that the day will come when there is nothing left to take, or, as those of us who are seniors fear, there is little more to give?

Do we take without appreciation? The boy never thanks the tree, although she takes joy from his childhood play in her branches and his periodic visits through the years.

After every gift the tree provides, the narrator reports: “And the tree was happy.” Was it that she was fulfilling her destiny? Was it her unwavering commitment to relationship? How open are we to receiving such bountiful grace?