About two months ago I received a package in the mail from a family with which I had recently worked. I had helped this couple to make arrangements to inter the ashes of their son at the foot of a young oak tree on the Preserve. Though he had passed a few years before, the depth of their grief for their child (grown or not, he was still their child) was still heavy within their hearts.
In their message, they shared that their son had “loved to climb trees and would be happy that he now lies under a beautiful oak tree.” Along with this message they also enclosed a gift – “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, which was a favorite among their family.
I read this story many times as a child. As a little girl, it always made me a tad uncomfortable. I never liked the progression of the little boy taking so much from the tree – perhaps feeling guilty for my own selfish, childish demands. Maybe this was why my mother would occasionally insist that this story make its way into the bedtime rotation…?
The little boy and the tree have made an appearance a few times as I am now reading to my own son. When I became a parent, the story took on a whole new flavor. My focus shifted to the tree, who gave without regard for herself. The love of the tree was so like the love of a parent; giving with no expectations. But the tree gives so much that by the end she is left a lonely stump.
As the book has sat upon my shelf for a few weeks, though, I have begun to consider the story differently. As many have before me, I see an environmental message underlying the story. It seems to me now that we all are the little boy, and the tree is all of Nature. We come into the world like the boy, full of carefree innocence as we climb and explore our world. As we age we become caught up with the demands of our lives, viewing nature as a commodity and often disconnecting ourselves from it. When we reach the end of our lives we will all return to Nature – to the earth – to rest.
Obviously everyone’s interpretation of any work of art will be different and personal. In the wake of my time spent with this family, this environmental interpretation feels like an appropriate and important reminder. A reminder to live my life mindfully, not taking too much from the tree. A reminder to cling to that young boy within me, swinging in the branches of the tree with a heart full of love and joy. A reminder to ensure that, when I reach the end of my life, I can return and rejoin her in peace.
I can only hope that those I leave behind will be able to carry with them the image of me swinging among her branches.