One of my favorite books used to be Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. It was the go-to gift for graduations, birthdays, all sorts of occasions. No more. I do have to keep in mind that it was written in 1964, long before the issues cropping up in it became problematic. We simply didn’t see them as problems.
Many of you are probably familiar with the story of the little boy who approaches a tree and asks for her apples. Later, he wants money, so she gives him her apples to sell. He grows up and wants a house, so she gives him her branches, then later, her trunk so he can build a boat. Nothing is left but a stump. Soon, the boy is an old man and only wants a place to rest, so she gives him her stump to rest on. The story ends by saying the tree is happy. See the pattern here? In 1964, neither the author nor the readers gave a second thought to the fact that the tree is portrayed as female, and the boy takes and takes and takes. The tree gives and gives and gives, and gets nothing in return. In 1964, her making the boy happy was accepted as enough. Now, the idea of anyone giving everything to someone else has become objectionable, whether it’s a woman giving it all, or a man in the same situation. I no longer give The Giving Tree to anyone.
It took a while, but I finally found a worthy substitute. In Patrick McConnell’s book The Gift of Nothing, Mooch, the cat from his comic strip, is trying to come up with a birthday gift for his best friend, Mutts, the dog. But Mutts already has everything he could possibly need. After searching and searching, Mooch decides he doesn’t have to give Mutts some-thing. He wraps an empty box and gives him no-thing. It ends with the two of them sitting together, and sharing the no-thing that is their love and friendship. Like Mutts and Mooch, we don’t need things to tell the people we love how valued they are. We only need no-thing but the time to enjoy the stars, a meal, each other’s company.
Now’s the time to reach out to the people we love, the friends we value, the people we’ve reconnected with from our pasts. It’s a good time to send them The Gift of Nothing. And get a copy for yourself too.
There’s a difference between Giving and Gifting.