The Giving Tree

Jordan Lee - Ecuador


May 15, 2013

As some of you may know, I had somewhat of a “deprived” childhood. I’ve never seen Bambi, Winnie the Pooh, Sesame Street, or a whole assortment of commonplace children’s shows and movies. I’ve never been to any zoo. And I don’t remember ever eating a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich before the age of 15. But I did read a few good books, like the first 2 and a half Harry Potter novels, several works by Dr. Seuss, and one of my favorites, The Giving Tree.

For those of you that have never read the story, or might just need a quick refresher, the Giving Tree is about a young boy and a tree. Everyday the boy would come to the tree and climb its trunk, play in its branches, and rest in its shade. The boy loved the tree, and the tree him. But as time went by, the boy stopped coming to the tree as much, and the tree grew very sad. After a long absence, the boy finally returns when he is about our age and the tree responds ecstatically “come boy, play in my branches and climb my trunk.” But the boy declined, saying he was too big, and that instead he  wanted money. “Can you give me some money?” asked the boy. “I’m sorry,” said the tree, “but I have no money to give you. Here, take my apples and sell them in the city.” So the boy picked all the apples, and took them to sell. The scenario happens again and again, with the tree losing it’s branches and leaves all to meet the boy’s needs. In the final act of sacrifice, the tree gives its trunk to the boy, now a middle-aged man, so he can build a boat and sail far away.

At first glance, the story might just look like a sneaky ploy to turn children into environmental activists, but I see something a bit more profound here. When I first got to Global Citizen Year, I was a lot like the boy playing in the tree. I didn’t really have any far-reaching goals for my time, I was just there to enjoy the ride. But then some time went by, and I got a little more demanding of the program. I was hungry for that “life-changing” experience I had heard so many alumni talk about. I got specific in my demands, just like the boy, and every time, Global Citizen Year found a way to meet me with a solution. I needed humility, so I was sent to a place where all my past achievements meant nothing. I wanted perspective, and I saw how many people were begging to go to college while I nonchalantly mentioned it as my plan for the future. I wanted patience, and was given small children.

But the story doesn’t end with the man taking the trunk. When he’s old, he comes back, and the tree apologizes, saying, “I’m sorry, I have nothing left to give you”. But the boy says “It’s okay, I am too tired to swing on branches and too old to climb trees, I just want a quiet place to sit and rest.” The tree, straightening up as high as it can, says “Well a stump is a good place to sit and rest”. So the boy sits and rests on the stump, and the tree is very happy.  

By now, I’ve finished the whole “Global” part of “Global Citizen Year”, so it seems like I have taken just about all I could from the program. There are no more adventures in the jungle, struggling with foreign languages, or navigating different and complex cultures. But right now, I don’t know if I want all of that. Instead, I would love a place to just sit, rest, and be with the people that have given me so much over the past 8 months. Sure I would love to swing and play again, but it can wait. So before we all sail off to wherever we end up, it would make me very happy to just sit, rest, and enjoy the company of friends that have given me more to me than I could have ever imagined. Thank you.

Jordan Lee