I periodically read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein to my grandchildren, as I read it to their parents, and even to myself as a girl in 1964. When reading to my grandchildren, complicated feelings arise in my heart. I hear Barbra Streisand sing…

“Mem’ries light the corners of my mind

Misty water-colored memories of the way we were

Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind

Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were.”

I think of the speed at which I arrived at the age of 70 and my mind turns to the older adults at Jewish Senior Life as I contemplate the illusion of the passage of time.

In The Giving Tree, the little boy took what was offered from his mother/tree, played king of the forest, climbed on her branches, and ate her apples. The boy enjoyed playing games near his mother and taking naps in her shade, and the mother tree was happy to give herself to the boy.  The boy was and is the tree’s ultimate joy.

As time passed, the boy left his mother tree alone as the boy was busy growing older with new interests… But whenever he did come to visit, the tree was joyful and continued to offer whatever was left of her apples and her branches to make him happy. And afterwards, whenever the boy left, the tree missed his company.

The tree experienced loneliness in the memories of the relationship with her son. The son came to his tree always needing and wanting and wanting and needing, and the mother tree gave the boy everything because she loved him. And the son took and took and took to seemingly improve his life. And he stayed away for long periods of time – living it.

The boy grew old and sad because his life wasn’t what he thought it would be, and he remembered his mother tree would help him. He returned and told her he wanted to sail away from his problems and so she provided him with her trunk so he could fashion a boat to make the boy happy… And when he sailed away in the boat, he never looked back. Many years later, he returned as a disillusioned older adult and saw the old stump who trembled with joy to see her son again. She offered the last bit of herself, a place to sit… and the very tired boy, who was now a very tired old man, sat on the old stump and the mother tree was happy.

This seemingly simple relationship between the tree and the boy – always touches my heart. My children would look into my tear-filled eyes and would ask me why I was sad. I recalled the memories of my own mother and father.  In my mind’s eye I would see my mother in her old age sitting quietly on the sofa at home, alone, always reading a book. She never saw me standing there. In contrast, I remember walking down the hall of my father’s independent living community and opening his door to find him napping peacefully in his recliner. And when he would awaken, he would smile and thank me for the visit. I sat with him, and we chatted, and he was happy. And I was happy. The joy came from being together, from feeling appreciated.

Who have you visited today? By visiting isolated people wherever they are, you can appreciate how their lives are uplifted by this simple act of caring. And it works for the giver as well, for when we give, we witness and receive the magic of experiencing joy in another. Think of the energy we expend by offering a simple act of kindness that could be the reason someone lives one more day, even if neither of you ever know it.



  • Marlene Gelfand /

    Hi Jo
    Your sentiments were expressed so beautifully. The Giving Tree was a favorite of mine and my children. And my daughter Halle has our original book and the poems have been passed on to her children and it will continue. L’dor v’dor
    Thank you!

  • Paula Mellin /

    Jo I am crying now after reading your beautiful passage on The Giving Tree. I don’t really think that children understand it, as well as not getting the true meaning either of the book. Love You Forever, by Robert Munch. You are a brilliant writer and I enjoy reading your articles each and every week. The Giving Tree sure is a tearjerker and a brilliant book.

Comments are closed.
Skip to content