Thursday, April 2, 2020

On Doors Made of Wood

"A gift opens the way
and ushers the giver into the presence of the great."
 - Proverbs 18:16, NIV

Shell Silverstein’s The Giving Tree needs no introduction, so I’ll save it. Take a moment. Remember it’s impact.

I do. It seemed prophetic when Mrs. Commuti read it to my second-grade class. There was no possibility, then, for understanding how, and no context to place it in, either.

Some people like to bring up this book in various nostalgic reveries, perhaps as a way to show some level of heart or affection. People often say, of this book, “I cried.”

Sentimentality happens when someone is rubbing up against the feelings they wish to have. With this in mind, one must always be consoling the criers, who find it flattering to believe that they can imagine what it means to give one’s being away.

The only thing to do when this happens is to remain silent,  remembering how the would-be bereaved have no idea what they are crying about, and understanding  — with a depth perhaps not unlike the depths glimpsed by the women and men who served food and made beds aboard The Titanic, whose stories are somehow never chronicled, and who were last to find seats aboard limited life boats —  that they never will.

This knowing is useless unless it comes with an understanding of how unknowing is a privilege or a curse bestowed on some, and that the bestowing or revoking of privileges and curses is something best left to higher powers unless one wishes to spend a life growing into wormwood. When it comes to dealing with the privileged, you can’t blame them. They honestly think it is their birthright, the absorption of other lives.

Certain trees you can harvest over and over again, cut to pieces and use as you like, and unless there is some blight, the wood will grow again.

Is it a tree that grows after this cut? This depends on the viewer. It was probably a tree, once. It was probably good at being a tree. But then a boy came along and he couldn’t help himself for knowing nothing but his own needs. So the tree gave him what he needed: again and again and again. Then he sat on the stump and looked at the great house he had built and thought fondly of the tree he once knew.

If a tree falls in a forest an no one hears it, did it really fall? This question is perennial and will remain forever unanswered, but one fact is certain. If the tree fell where it was cut, and it fell in a verifiable way, then when it was found it was no longer a tree. It was wood, because the viewer was wielding the saw, its teeth still warm from the final cut.

Here is a suggestion: now is the time to watch how people react. Some cry for the tree. Poor tree, they think, all used up.  But that’s just sentimentality and ignorance talking. The tree loved the boy because she knew the boy. She loved him where she met him and the place where she met him was simple: a child’s need.

But the child became a man and he did not grow beyond his need, so he sat on the stump of the tree he had once known with no way to account for the missing parts he had accumulated in the building of the home he claimed to want. Only the tree could account for this now, and the tree remained silent, and the boy remained ignorant of the cause of his endless want.

The tree knew only to grow and to give. He didn’t. That’s the lesson. Stop crying for the tree.

Pity the boy.