Dear Shel Silverstein,
“And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy.” Such a simple quote from The Giving Tree, and yet it had such a profound meaning to even my young brain. I remember reading this quote on a daily basis. I was only four years old but I could already read fluently. I looked to The Giving Tree to keep me upbeat and positive, even though I felt confused and angry with the world throughout preschool and into my first years of grade school. You see, I had always been the stubborn type, but I had no idea what trouble that could bring me.
Preschool was tough for me. It was a change that came on too strong and too fast. I had always been adamant and wanted to be in control of something. When I was first sent to preschool, I was upset because I felt that I had no control over what happened there. When I started school, my favorite book was The Giving Tree. I loved the deep, complex story that was told using only a few words and some pictures. The Giving Tree impacted my life more than I could have ever expected it to.
After a few months of school, I began to lose weight rapidly and I stopped growing. Naturally, my parents became worried because I was small statured anyway due to my premature birth. I don’t remember the first trip to the hospital, or the second. For the first few visits, I was kind of oblivious to what was happening around me. Without knowing it, I was just like the tree in the book. When the boy left the tree, she had no idea that he wasn’t coming back, so she was happy and unaware that anything had changed. For a while I was just like the tree, but when the appointments became more regular, I was frustrated. “And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy... but not really.”
This quote perfectly explained my feelings: my control was taken away but I remained happy. Kind of. As time crawled by, the apples that once represented my freedom were slowly being stripped from my tree of happiness.
The Giving Tree always stayed within my thoughts. I imagined how she must have felt when the boy left and stayed away. I didn’t want to be like the boy and leave my twin sister at school alone. I wanted to be like everyone else and have fun with a carefree life. The doctors came and left like an evening breeze. Not one could figure out what was wrong with me. Not even I knew what was wrong. I imagined that the tree must have thought she was responsible for the boy’s absence, while I knew I was the only person to blame for my illness. When I felt sad, I would read your book, The Giving Tree. I admired the tree because she represented the people who were experiencing much worse things than I, and yet she stayed positive. I aspired to be like the tree and to push through this temporary pain.
After quite a few scans and tests, a doctor decided on a preliminary diagnosis of cancer. This diagnosis was as temporary as the apples on a tree, and was soon dismissed, but not without worrying all those who loved and cared about me. The doctors eventually came up with a new theory. They said I wanted to be in control of my environment and the only way I felt I could control it was with food. I wasn’t eating nearly enough so I was over ten pounds underweight and I completely stopped growing. I didn’t know what this diagnosis meant for me. I had previously been completely in control of what I was eating and when I was eating it. Immediately after my diagnosis, I noticed that I had lost all control over my eating habits. I kept reading The Giving Tree over and over, finding comfort by finding a new perspective on the book with each obstacle I overcame. I knew how the tree was feeling when she had nothing left and was a sad, lonely stump. I still had friends and family but they were off living their lives while I stood alone in my forest. The checkups became more regular and I was constantly being weighed and measured. I pushed through the first few months of my new and monitored diet. Finally, I had regained most of the weight I had lost and my diet slowly became less and less restricted. I eventually became happier but I had still not lost my connection with the tree from my favorite book. I now knew just how she felt when finally, the boy came back to her, demanding nothing but the enjoyment of her company. My control was just like the boy. It had left me for so long and had finally come back. Now instead of feeling like the sad, lonely, empty tree, I felt like the content, happy tree that looked forward to what was to come.
I still struggled with my low weight and poor eating habits throughout my first few years of school, but I now knew how to get through it. I would read The Giving Tree and tell myself that even though I wasn’t feeling great on a particular day, things were bound to be better the next day. When I was younger, I really didn’t understand that The Giving Tree would have forever impacted my view of how precious life is. Now that I am older, I have finally realized that The Giving Tree changed my life for the better. Thank you for broadening my perspective on the most important values of life.