The Giving Tree

I grew up on two main ideals: Knowing every Beatles record by heart, and memorizing Shel Silverstein poetry and books. Do you remember the classic book by Shel Silverstein titled The Giving Tree? It was the first book I remember proudly reading by myself before I went to bed. Seeing its bright apple-green cover makes me smile every time I see it on my bookshelf.

We still have a copy that my parents gave my sister, as a kid.  Somehow, I never gave it back to her…it stirs up so many great memories.  Now, we read it to my adorable grandson whenever he wants a “classic” book. Yes, he has a very wide repertoire of favorites!

As I recently read the book to him, I was slightly saddened by its concept. Silverstein writes the tale of a huge, beautiful tree that is a source of comfort for a little boy. As the boy grows, he climbs the tree, picks its delicious fruit, and sits under the tree, talking to it. The boy grows and visits the tree less often.

As a young, buff grown man, he returns to the tree and the tree asks the “boy” to come and play. The “boy” asks for money, and in return, the tree says “Take my apples, Boy and sell them in the city. Then, you will have money.”  The adult boy takes the apples, and the tree is happy.

Many years pass, and the Boy returns, saying he needs a house, and he wants a wife and children now. He asks “Can you give me a house?” The tree says “The forest is my house, but you can cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy.” So, the Boy does so. The next scene in the book is a bare tree, without branches. It is such a shocking drawing….just a long tree trunk with carvings the boy had drawn years ago. And yet “the tree was happy.”

The book continues until the tree becomes a simple, small stump for the Boy, who is elderly, to simply sit upon, and enjoy the fact that he can quietly exist with his old friend the Tree.

“How is the tree happy?” I remember asking my parents. “The tree is not beautiful anymore, it is just a small stump!” My parents explained that the tree is happy and that it could give everything to the Boy. For, the tree’s joy was the act of giving and seeing the Boy enjoy his life.

And now, as the green book sits in my hands, I ask again. “How is the tree happy?” To me, the Tree is a metaphor for our relationship with our own parents who give and give, without an end. Their love is eternal, and essentially their joy is seeing that their children are happy, successful, and loved.

It is also the relationship between us and God. He has created this beautiful world, the air we breathe, the land we live on, the vistas, the valleys, the vast sea, the food we eat, and more. It is all for us to enjoy and benefit from.

But, what happens when we abuse beauty? What happens when His creatures actually begin to destroy the synchronicity of the world?  What happens when cruelty to others becomes the norm? What happens in times of terror? Is the Tree still “happy?” I beg to differ. I think the Tree at that moment sees itself as a short stump, unable to provide anything, because it gave everything, and the spoiled child forgot to acknowledge the generosity.

It reminds me of a song that George Harrison wrote in 1971 titled “Give Me Love”. It was a song he wrote as a response to the Bangladesh Liberation War.

The Bengalese people, who lived in the Eastern area of Pakistan,  were attacked by the Pakistani government in a systematic raping, torturing, and killing. There is an estimate of the genocide toll total was 1.5 million people.  The Pakistani army has denied the killings.

In particular, there was an incident in which the University of Dacca was targeted. Between 600-700 students, educators, and residents of the University of Dacca were murdered, and it was captured on film.

After months of conflict, Bangladesh declared independence from Pakistan on March 25, 1971. But, fighting ensued for months afterward. Eventually, Bangladesh was accepted by the world community, and the UN, as a new country, independent of Pakistan.

George Harrison heard this tale being discussed in the UN, on the news, and debated by world leaders, and he was outraged. He sat and wrote the following:

Give me loveGive me loveGive me peace on earthGive me lightGive me lifeKeep me free from birthGive me hopeHelp me cope with this heavy loadTrying to touch and reach you withHeart and soul
OmMy LordPlease take hold of my handThat I might understand youWon’t you pleaseOh, won’t you?
Harrison was outraged. It appeared that people were on a killing rampage, and the governments of the world were tip-toeing around the need to speak up against the atrocities. Governments feared that involvement could cause a cataclysmic East Asian War that would disrupt the world order. And so, while the UN Human Rights Commission condemned the atrocities, the UN failed to defuse the situation properly before the actual war had begun.
When Harrison was asked why he wrote the song “Give Me Love” he answered, “This song is a prayer and a personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it” (Autobiography of George Harrison, titled I Me Mine, 1980, Genesis Publications).
I think George Harrison was reaching out to the “Tree” in The Giving Tree. He was hoping that the Tree would bring love, peace, light, and life back to those who had lost everything in the wake of the fight for Bangladesh’s independence. But, Harrison also knew that he was also reaching out to future generations, with future conflicts who may need to sit down upon the tree stump and contemplate what has transpired, what has gone right, and what has gone terribly wrong.
As I write this, the sun is about to rise, and I am trying so hard to find light in the new day ahead. May my Tree wait for me as I seek its comfort and guidance throughout the twists and turns of this crazy world.


About the Author
Ariel Edery is a mother (and mother-in-law) of three IDF soldiers, a trained Clinical MSW, an English and Diplomacy teacher at Amit Hallel Rehovot, and the author of Gila Makes Aliyah, Menorah/Koren Publishers.
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