When I wrote the passages in my first book, each one was spur of the moment sparked by a conversation, a situation or simply something I had encountered around the time of the message. That has changed over the last few years. I write on so many different platforms that I often don't spend a great deal of time in deep self-reflection. I always spend time with myself, but I rarely get into deep conversations with myself. Part of that is because I do get to talk to some great, knowledgeable, intellectual, spirited people who enjoy good conversations. The other part is that, when I am driving along the water or sitting somewhere enjoying a moment, I tend to let my brain just "be" and with it I find a lot of peace and energy release. A side-effect of that is that I don't have many of these "oh, this needs to written right now" type messages as often as I used to. This weekend I had one of those moments that said, "you need to write about me." It is a funny feeling when an old friend (process in this case) comes back to visit. Just like with an old friend, I find sitting and writing this to be like I never stopped having "Just a Thought" in the first place. Without further ado....
A good friend of mine and I were talking about our favorite books (really hers since I'm not much of a reader to be honest). She said one of her all time favorites was The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I had to admit I had never read the story but I had probably heard it as a child. As we talked, my friend talked about how loving the tree was and how it was a great story of love and sacrifice. I said, "It's a sad book." The story is about selfishness and abuse. What do you mean by abuse? That is a good question and maybe I'll have an answer for it by the end of the blog. This conversation popped in my head yesterday and then again this morning which is why I am here typing away. Let me tell you a story I shared with a friend last night.
On Aug 6, 2004, I got up and I talked to all my usual friends. I wished people good day and asked them how they were doing like I normally do. The people close to me all did the normal things that we always do. I talked to my best friends and even my special friend who would become my current (hopefully always) wife. My phone didn't ring a lot and no one made plans to see me or invite me over. It was, for all intents and purposes, another day. I roll into bed around midnight and go to sleep. August 7th comes and goes. August 8th comes and I call my mother to see how she was doing. We talk for a minute and she asks how my birthday was. I told her it was uneventful since no one remembered it. She gasped and did the mom thing of making her baby feel better. She thought she called and apologized which she didn't have to do. I know my mom wouldn't forget the day I plowed out of her body. In any case, she was the first person to acknowledge my "special" day as we like to call it. On August 10th my special friend (now wife) calls me, she has had a stressful week in training so we talk about that for a bit. She realizes during the convo that she, too, forgot my birthday. On the same day my best friend at the time calls me and says, "Did I forget your birthday?" to which I reply, "Yes, but so did everybody else, so it's cool." Of course, they all apologize and felt bad and all that. And while I felt bad no one called me or texted me, I did not for one second think that they did not care. Even so, I felt unappreciated and a bit saddened that no one remembered until my friend asked me a question:
Why didn't you say anything?
She was right. I never said anything. I am a talkative person who will tell you what he needs. Except this day I expected people to know and I tested them when I realized they all forgot. I played a game with my own needs and lost. On this day I didn't have a giving tree. On this day there was no one to build up my hurt feelings, not because it wasn't there, but because I never asked for what I needed. I wasn't the boy in the story because I didn't go to my tree(s). Instead, I wanted them to come to me. It isn't like today where Facebook tells everyone when someone has a birthday which makes it easier for people like me to remember to say something. We all need a giving tree, right?
So, yesterday morning I wake up and I send a really sweet birthday message to my friend. As this friend is going through some personal growth. I wanted to make sure at least one birthday message was more than just a meme share or GIF. The friend saw it and, a few hours later, responded with a "Thank you. That was sweet of you." I hadn't heard much from the friend throughout the day. I send pics and things that I think would make the day cool. Later in the evening the friend comes back and said, "The kids had fun at this event but no one remembered my birthday, and I'm a bit sad about that." This is where the giving tree popped in my head for the record. Anyway, I do what I do which is spend the next hour breaking down the emotion, feeling and thoughts my friend was having. I asked what was more important: quality or quantity. I mean, I knew for a fact that at least one person took time to make sure to acknowledge the special day. I knew that all the Facebook friends would have also acknowledged the day. Yet, in this instance, the friend was sad about it all. After telling the story of August 2004 I said, I didn't ask for what I wanted when I realized I wasn't getting what I wanted. Therefore, I couldn't be mad at others for not giving it to me.
This made me think of something else. What if the friend (or me in 2004) got all the birthday wishes? Got fussed over by the masses? Paraded with gifts? One thousand Facebook messages all personalized and special? What if the giving tree gave all the apples and stood bare because
it's a special day? I am sure that the friend (as I) would have taken it all for granted. Maybe, like the picture here, a selfie would be taken and a message written saying something "Thank you for all the apples (birthday wishes). You make me feel so special." I'm sure most of you have done that very thing. After all, it is hard to thank every apple (person) for being so thoughtful, now isn't it?
The truth is, had that happened, I am sure messages from certain people would be more special than others. I think back to August 2004 and wonder, what if someone I didn't like said happy birthday to me? Would I be happy? Or would I still be pissed no one I cared about did? I know I would take for granted my mother saying it. I know I would take for granted my friend saying it. I would have weighted my (now) wife's birthday wish higher because she wasn't really "expected" to do it. As I think about it further it is because I would treat my mother/friend/those I expect stuff from as my giving tree. Just like my friend treated my message.
See I can stand proudly under the tree and wax poetic how grateful I am for the apples to sell, for the branches to build my house, for the trunk to build my boat, and for the stump to let rest, but it will be one-sided. The tree sacrifices, yet I, no we, would not sacrifice. Instead, we take it for granted. Now, I don't think my friend was trying to be hurtful or anything. I know my message was appreciated and loved. I know that it brought a smile. But, in the moment, my friend saw nothing else but what wasn't done. We get too focused on the need to have instead of seeing what we already have.
This lesson is what I bring to you all today. No, I bring to me. I think of all the things and people I have taken for granted over the years. I think of parents who sacrificed so much so I could barely tap my potential. I think of friends who send care packages when I am away and who check on my family out of the kindness of their hearts. I think of the people who pray for me because that is what their faith does and those who think of me because that is where their belief resides. I think of all the people from bosses to friends to co-workers who took time to teach me something. All the people who simply gave me an apple from their minds in the form of wisdom/understanding. All the people who gave me branches of them in the form of blood, sweat and tears to help me build a stronger foundation of myself. And the few that gave me everything in the form of sacrifice so I could chase my dreams and go as far as I possibly could. And finally the handful of stumps that have the least to give yet the most in the form of somewhere to stop and be safe while I rest my weary bones. I think of them all because, more often than not, I don't think of them at all, and that is a tragedy.
Looking at the picture above I see there are no rhyme or reason to the branches behind me. They grow to where they can to get light, water and strength to support the tree. But for me, well now at least, it is more than that. It is a display on what life really is about. You see, we do not soar like eagles in the sky, as men cannot fly without aide. What we do is we build ourselves up on
all the help we have gotten over the years, through actual help or lessons learned. We don't see it but all around us is the platform of branches woven upwards so we can climb higher and tightly woven below us so we don't fall downwards. It is invisible to the eye and often part of what makes us go. Yet we, after a while, hardly know it is there but there it is at every turn. The foolish of us only see the forest around us as something to be conquered without realizing that it isn't there to battle against us but to protect us, teach us and lift us.
The Giving Tree!
What a thought. But wait, there's more! You see, while we are taking all we can from our trees we are also being taken from. We are also giving apples, branches and even trunks to others. Unlike the book, our lives aren't made with one tree. In fact, everywhere we look there are trees for us
and we are part of it. It doesn't matter how big we get, how far away we run or how little we pay attention to it, we are part of the whole. And in it, we must remember to appreciate those trees that help us grow. We must look at the smaller ones and give ourselves to them. As well as look at the old ones and give our strength to them. And that is why I sit here today typing away, not because I want to point out how we are and what we don't cherish but to remind myself, and maybe you, to be grateful for the one birthday wish, if you will. Tell those people you appreciate them. Make sure you give to others what you hope to be given to you. Speak what you need and find it within the branches that surround you. If it isn't there, then build it and share it so someone else could use it. Because sooner or later, each and everyone of us will become the stump!
Now, I will close this little blog with answering the question posed in the beginning about the book. Why is the book about abuse? Because the boy uses the tree. He marks it, he climbs, he takes it from it, he cuts it, he cuts it again, and then he sits on what is left. Not once did he give it anything. Not once did he ask the tree what it needed. Not once did he consider the tree. Yet, we say the boy loves the tree and the tree love him. The tree loves what it can provide for the boy. It is dependent on the boy. It is the only thing the tree has and therefore it loves not because it is getting what it needs but because it is getting something, anything from the boy. In the end, the tree gives everything to a boy who, for all its worth, was unhappy.
The moral: do not abuse your trees because, when you selfishly take and take and take, you will not only destroy it but also yourself. If we don't cherish the true gifts in our life, we will never be a cherished gift in someone else's.