The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is one of my favorite books. I just love it.
So much so that I have a copy here in Chi.na that I have read to every class I have ever taught and every student I have ever tutored.
I thought today would be a good day to have Wang, my new 17 year old student read the book so we could chat about it. I thought he would like it because he is a "feeler." He is a music student at a special school for musically inclined kids in town, and he's a free thinker (his mom is my co-worker for the orphans and is the most revo.lut.iona.ry person I have ever/will ever meet).
About half way through our hour-long class I handed him the book and he started reading.
He read slowly and meticulously - pronouncing every world right except "crowns" and "gathered."
Until we reached the page where the little boy asks the tree for money and gathers all the tree's apples to sell in the city.
And he stopped reading. And began to shake a bit.
I looked over at him (we have class seated on my little 2-seater couch in my dorm) and wondered if he was embarrassed because his reading was poor, or if he couldn't read a word, or if he was sick. I got worried as the seconds passed...until I realized - he was on the verge of tears.
I put my arm around him, "are you ok?"
He began to sob. "I love this story," he managed to whisper out between blubbery gasps and tears.
And I let him cry. For a long time.
After a cup of water and several tissues, I asked him if he wanted to continue the story. I told him we could just sit if he wanted to, we didn't even need to talk. But he wanted to continue, so we did. He read and shook and let some tiny tears fall as he finished reading the story of the boy and the tree. A story about unconditional love.
He finished the book, looked over to me and said, "This is my mother." And he cried some more.
It was such.a.precious.moment.
I saw a little light bulb go off in his head and he flipped back to the page about the boy collecting apples, the page where his emotions were triggered. "This is me," he said pointing to the part abou the boy asking for money. He then went on to slowly re-tell the story to me, bit by bit explaining that it is only in the end of our lives that we realize what someone has given us, and then it's too late. To him, the cutting down of the tree to make a boat symbolized the death of the tree (even though in the book it doesn't die) and he took from that that only after a person dies does a young person really know what that person has given to them - because young people are immature and greedy and unaware what sacrifices their parents make for them.
It was the deepest rendition of the story I have ever been told.
We sat together for awhile past his class time. He didn't want to go outside looking like he had been crying because his dad was picking him up today and he's, "a man."
I told him it's ok to cry. It's powerful to cry. And to be honest with his emotions. He didn't know the world "honest" so we looked it up in my dictionary and he shook his head yes.
I had a strange moment of, there's a 17 year old Chi.nese boy sobbing on my couch. I felt my role as teacher blend with counselor and friend in those moments. He just needed a safe space, he didn't need anyone to talk. He was just living in the moment of love for his family. And it was beautiful.
After about 10 minutes of silence, he got up to leave. I gave him the book. It's his story. If a person is that moved by a lesson in love, they deserve to re-live it and share it with others, especially his mom.
I'm not sure how much english Wang learned in our hour together today, but I know we both learned something. He learned to allow himself to cry. And I got a first-hand glimpse of raw emotion - a rarity in this culture.
And we were both moved.
walk slow. xoxo.