Friday, January 13, 2012

My Giving Tree

"Man", said Shoghi Effendi, "is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions."

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One of my favorite books as a child was "The Giving Tree", by Shel Silverstein. I can't begin to tell you how much I loved it. Perhaps that is why it made me so happy when Shoghi said that he loved it, too. But it wasn't always that way. The first time I read it to him we almost didn't make it to the end. He was crying too hard. I had to work hard to convince him that it had a happy ending, and to let me finish reading it. I was so grateful that he trusted me.

The story, as you may know, is about a tree that loves a little boy. The boy plays with the tree every day, making crowns out of her leaves, climbing in her branches and eating her apples, and even playing hide-and-seek with her. As you would expect, he grows up and visits less often. The rest of the story is about her offering him different things to help him try to learn to be happy. He wants some money, so she offers him her apples to sell. He wants a house, so she offers her branches. At the end, she is only a stump, and he is a tired, old man. She is able to offer him a quiet place to sit and rest. "And she was very happy." It's a beautiful story about generosity, and it allowed me the opportunity to ask Shoghi if he thought that money or a house would make the man happy. "No," he said, "of course not."

Last night we read the story again, and it made him so happy to see such generosity in action.

This morning, as I was walking him to his bus, he asked me if there really was a Giving Tree.

"Of course", I said, with all sincerity. "I had a Giving Tree when I was your age." And then I told him the following true story.

When I was a young boy, about the same age as Shoghi, I lived in a house on the corner of a street. There were houses all down our street, on both sides. But across the other street, the one at the side of our home, to the east, was a tree covered hill, a forest of small trees. Except for one tree. One of them was big, a giant amidst all the others. This was our Giving Tree.

This tree was a beautiful, big, old weeping willow. From my child-like perspective, she was about 1 meter diameter across, and there was a single branch reaching out towards the horizon. It must have been about a foot thick at the trunk, and at least 5 meters long. Even a six-year old could easily climb onto that magnificent branch and lean back against the trunk of the tree and fall asleep. If you were brave, you could straddle it like a horse, move way from the trunk, climbing further and further along that limb, and bounce on it. No greater steed was ever ridden by any valiant knight.

One day we were Robin Hood, standing on that mighty branch, making our daring plans. Another day we'd be blasting off into outer space, lying down on it as the countdown went on. And another day we'd be the cowboys chasing the bank robbers, three of us bouncing up and down, vying to see who would be in the lead as we scrambled back and forth on that limb. Scrapes, bruises, even broken bones: none of that mattered as we strove to be the heroes of the day.

But then one morning we went outside and there, across the street, was a truck: a bulldozer. They were going to build some new houses.

We never dreamed that anyone could possibly cut down such a beautiful tree. Oh, the smaller trees, and the bushes, sure, but not our old willow. Not our Giving Tree. It just wasn't possible.

We watched over the next few days as they made their plans and did their little markers which meant nothing to our young eyes, and wondered as the different trucks and things moved in. We didn't know what was going on, but we knew that something was going to change.

Over 35 years later I still get tears in my eyes when I think of the day I walked outside and saw her gone, an empty space where she once stood so majestically.

When I became friends with the kids who moved into one of those houses, I still saw her standing there every time I went over to their home, there in the dining room that had been built over where she had once stood.

Today I encourage my son to find his own Giving Tree, to find the magic in the woods and cherish every moment he can playing there with her. Whether he builds a tree house, or sees her as a new type of Transformer, it doesn't matter. If he comes home with a scraped knee, or even a broken bone, I will know that it was worth it when he tells me the heroic stories of daring-do that he and his friends did, his eyes aglow as he recounts every detail through the tears of pain.

And that, I told him this morning, is why I get tears in my own eyes when I look at the tree-covered hills looming a mile or two beyond our home and know that they will soon be bare of those makers of legends. Whose Giving Tree will we be cutting down when we raze a forest on a hill to make a dozen new houses? How many Giving Trees will be lost because we want our bigger and "better" homes?

No, we both agreed. We need to find the magic in the forest, treasure it, and help others to see it, too.

If there is anything that my Giving Tree gave to me, it was the ability to dream.

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