Remembering the Giving Trees in Our Lives
For many of us this time of year, in spite of the cold weather in some parts of our world, is a time to reflect on the past year. I must say, it’s all a difficult time for many especially if they are suffering loss of a loved one, unemployment, loneliness, financial crisis, all kinds of heartaches. Nevertheless, it sometimes helps to remember not only what we have lost but what we have left. Easier said than done.
If someone asked me ‘What do you like most about the year end holidays, starting with Thanksgiving and moving through to Christmas and the New Year?”, I would say, It’s a time to reflect.
The food is spectacular but who doesn’t mind a ‘cheat day or two—those delectable, fattening morsels that make Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s so special. So are the parties and the people . . . the songs, the smiles, the smells. Each weaves its way into the fabric of our minds in such a beautiful manner that we live in the warmth of them for days. Sometimes a lot longer.
But the best part for me of these traditional holidays, is a time to pause, to reflect, to remember. It’s a good time to just sit silently, thoughtfully, alone. To remember the past without the shock interruption of routine tasks. It’s a time to walk on a snowy evening in a neighborhood with your kids in tow, or to walk the beach if you are blessed to live in a warm climate, taking time to stop and listen. And think.
A particular highlight might be to be by a warm fireplace with all the lights out, staring into the heat, and letting thoughts emerge, drift, and linger. A time to listen to some holiday music or read some lines from a good book or poem.
It’s a time to say, “You know what? It’s been a long year. I need some time to savor the days past, and to enjoy the season.
Clergyman Charles Wesley said it best when he sang, “it’s a time to ‘be lost in wonder, love and praise’.
And to do this in quiet, in unhurried leisure, where I reap some rich benefits of peace and joy and tranquility. Whether one believes in God or a higher being or not, this time of year does tend to sensitize us to the hope that there is Someone over us, watching over us, caring for us. And in our own way, we quietly say, “thank You”. In my case, times like this end up with me thanking the Almighty for something specific, for something or someone that He has provided in the past of my life and that makes my life today much more fulfilled.
In recent days I have been recalling the loss of my mom and dad as well as younger brother who died an untimely death. What makes this time of year bearable and even positive for me is when I think about their lives and what they contributed to me while they were here. I draw strength from each of them as I think about who they were and what they meant to me and rather than be sad, I ask them in a spiritual kind of way to be with me as I face the uncertainties and challenges of my life.
This happens to me year in and year out. We have developed a ‘tradition’ in our home, since our kids were little kids. Now we have grandkids, and hope to do this with them.
Over the years we have so enjoyed reading a book by Shel Silverstein called The Giving Tree, a simple fanciful piece about a tree who loved a boy. There is no religious connotation to the story but one can read that into it if one wants to. For our family it’s become a metaphor for how we all want to be ‘when we grow up’, like that tree. By the way, we have even enjoyed neighborhood get togethers where I would get up and read the story to our neighbors and then reflect as a group on the story’s impact on us. Talk about a community coming together. Here’s a brief summary of that story.
They played hide ‘n’ seek in his younger years. He swung from her branches, climbed all over her, ate her apples, slept in her shade. Such happy, carefree days. The tree loved those years of the boy’s childhood.
But the boy grew and spent less time with the tree. On one occasion the young man returned. “Come on, let’s play,” invited the tree . . . but the lad was only interested in money. “Take my apples and sell them,” said the tree. He did . . . and the tree was happy.
He didn’t return for a long time, but the tree smiled when he passed by one day. “Come, play, friend. Come, play!” But the boy—now full grown—wanted to build a house for himself. “Cut off my branches and build your house,” she offered. He did, and once again the tree was happy.
Years dragged by. The tree missed the boy. Suddenly, she saw him in the distance. “Come on, let’s play!” but the man was older and tired of his world. He wanted to get away from it all. “Cut me down. Take my large trunk and make yourself a boat. Then you can sail away,” said the tree. And that’s exactly what he did . . . and the tree was happy.
Many seasons passed—summers and winters, windy days and lonely nights—and the tree waited. Finally, the old man returned . . . too old, too tired to play, to pursue riches, to build houses, or to sail the seas. “I have a pretty good stump left, my friend. Why don’t you just sit down here and rest?” He did . . . and the tree was happy.¹
As I read this story to my adult children and their children, I watch myself pass in review as I grow older with the tree and the boy. I identify with both—and it hurts.
And in my time of reflection, I think, How many Giving Trees have there been in my life? How many have released part of themselves so I might grow, accomplish my goals, find wholeness and satisfaction, and reach beyond the tiny, limited playground of my childhood? So, so many. Thank you, Lord, for each one. Their names could fill this page.
Now I, like the tree, have grown up. Now it’s my turn to give. And some of that hurts. Apples, branches, sometimes the trunk. My rights, my will . . . and even my children and grandchildren.
So much to give. Thank you, Lord, that I have a few things of value to give. Even if it’s a lap to be sat on . . . or the comfort of a warm hug.
As I get older, it’s times like this that make aging a joy rather than a burden. The times of remembering and reflecting draw me close to my Lord, and to all those in my circle of my family and friends.
I can go to sleep night after night during this holiday season with gratitude to my Creator. I am a thankful man.
Thankful I have had a time to reflect.
How about you? Who have been the Giving Trees in your life? Before 2013 is out, who do you need to just say, “I love you’ to, and who do you need to ‘thank’ with a full heart?
Who knows maybe you will even start the same tradition we did 30 plus years ago.