“Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy.”
So begins Shel Silverstein’s story, “The Giving Tree”. This book was chosen as the focus of the Religious Exploration sessions at UUCG for last two months. If you have ever read this story you know that there are many ways to interpret it, several perspectives from which to view its message. Behind the words of the story, it offers powerful commentary on loving and being loved, and on giving and receiving. It can be seen as representative of the love between a mother and child, or an allegory of God’s love for humanity. We have chosen to view it from an ecological perspective, through which the Tree of the story is representative of all trees, of all nature, of the entire earth. This lens of ecology is actually inclusive of the other perspectives as well, for if we view nature as “Mother Earth”, she is, in a sense, both divine and maternal. And we see humanity as the boy, continuously asking for more from her to satisfy our own needs, without regard for how she is affected by our taking.
As leaders, after reading the story to the children, we asked them what they thought without offering our own judgments, and they reflected themselves on the “self-centeredness” of the boy, and how sad it was that at the end, the Tree has nothing left to give. They proposed alternatives to the cutting of the branches and the trunk which would have allowed the tree to continue to flourish so that the boy’s own children (and grandchildren) could one day enjoy all that the Tree had to offer. Someone said, “if he thought more of others than of himself, maybe he wouldn’t have needed a boat to ‘sail away’, because he would have been fulfilled and content with his life where he was.”
It is not clear whether the boy in The Giving Tree continues to take out of greed or out of ignorance for how profoundly his actions are affecting the tree. Much like the relationship between humanity and the earth, some devastate nature and her resources because they don’t really understand how it is adversely affecting the planet’s health (and some don’t want to), and some simply don’t care. It would be wonderful if those of us who are aware, those of us who care so deeply, could open the eyes and the hearts of those who do not.
But the thing is, whichever side of the fence one stands on, sustainability is in the wisdom to take only that which does not destroy the possibility of receiving in the future. And it is important to note that, in the end of the book, it is only the Tree that is happy.