Over time, we became very close.
When we first met, she mentored me. As we got to know each other better, we mentored each other.
Then things shifted and I began supporting her through some of the toughest times a human being can endure.
During those years, she gifted me with a book by Shel Silverstein called “The Giving Tree.”
This book talked about a relationship between a boy and a tree.
The tree loved the boy, and the boy loved the tree back.
But whereas the tree’s love was unconditionally giving, the boy’s love was focused on getting.
At first, this was so innocent – after all, the boy was little. He needed a lot from the tree, and the tree gave it all willingly.
But as the boy grew up, he continued to take.
The tree continued to give.
At last, the boy had grown old himself. He had taken so much from the tree that only a stump remained.
Then the tree gave him even this.
The book ends with these words, “And the tree was happy.”
When my friend gave me this book, she wrote on the inside front flap “The book says it all.”
At the time, like the tree, I was very happy to know I meant so much to her.
I was also a little flattered (after all, who doesn’t like to be told they are a giving person?).
But later on, as I began to be asked to give up arms and legs and hands and feet and other similar essentials, I started to feel the impact of my own decision to give.
It began to weigh me down and wear me out.
One day I realized I didn’t want to be the giving tree anymore. In fact, I had never truly aspired to such levels of self-sacrifice.
I also began to wonder if giving that much, without even questioning the request, was a wise choice – for either of us.
She became dependent on me, and I became dependent on that.
When I started to draw back a bit, to set limits on my giving, it wasn’t well received. There were words, and meanness.
I held my ground.
There were some more words, and some more meanness.
Again, I held my ground.
Then there was silence.
To this day, there continues to be silence.
I think back to all those years ago when she first gave me the book, and how at the time I glossed over the tree’s total self-desecration on behalf of the boy.
Perhaps I saw the tree as God, a divine force, so wise that it already knew it was okay to give that much – it was for a good cause and the boy had earned it.
Or maybe I just thought that is what good people do – give and give and give.
I might have gazed past the surface of the act of giving – the act of gifting something one being owns to another being that wants it badly – to the core motivation behind the giving, which is a lack of identification with what is being given and a sense of self that transcends issues of “ownership.”
But more likely I was just codependently connected to this friend because she needed to receive a lot from me and I needed to give a lot.
It was where our comfort zones were at that time.
The book no longer sits on my bookshelf. The day I realized I was no longer able to be her (or anyone’s) giving tree, I gave it away.
I still think of my friend often, and I also remember the many good times we shared, the laughter and the relief of not feeling so alone in this world (at a time when I often felt very, very alone).
So there is nostalgia, yes. And anger. And grief. And more than a little regret.
But there is no more – not even a bit of – longing to go back to our “Giving Tree” days.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever been in a relationship where you felt like a “Giving Tree?” Or are you in such a relationship now? If you have ever left a relationship where you discovered you were giving more than you could safely or healthily do, how did you transition away from that connection? What wisdom did you take from the experience that you are grateful for today?