In typical "The Universe: I'm At The Center Of It" kid style, I grew up assuming that The Giving Tree was one of the best kids' books of the '90s. This despite the fact that the iconic Shel Silverstein story was originally penned in 1964. I didn't care. Like pretty much every other person my age (and arguably, people belonging to the generations flanking my own on either side), the moment I discovered Shel Silverstein, and his sing-song brand of easy, kid-accessible entree to ~profound life truths~, he was mine. He was my guy. By the time I was 7 years old, I had amassed a tiny-yet-mighty catalogue of what I had decided (by what metrics, I have no idea; because they were the ones available at the Scholastic Book Fair?) were the author's must-reads (the Essentialsteins, if you will). And there was serious comfort in seeing those books — The Giving Tree, Where The Sidewalk Ends, and A Light In The Attic (my younger sister would later add Falling Up when it was released in 1996, thus allowing me to indulge in my first bout of smug "I prefer his earlier works" judgment) — lined up on my shelf. I felt a palpable extra barrier of existential protection in having those books, and the infinite life wisdom therein, within reach at all times.
If you're expecting this to be the part where I laugh the wizened belly laugh of a 29-year-old who feels bemused in an endeared if vaguely pained way about her younger self and the unwavering adoration of Shel Silverstein's quaint nuggets of idyllic truth, then I'm sorry, because GUESS WHAT HE'S STILL THE BEST FOREVER AND 5-YEAR-OLD ME KNEW THE GODDAMN SCORE (IN MOST WAYS, ACTUALLY).
No, there's not a lot in Silverstein's poems that give me advice about, say, managing a compulsive Tinder addiction, or figuring out the exact correct amount I should be saving for retirement each month, but honestly, if I can't be told by a benevolent bald man "anything can happen, child; anything can be" and then figure out the details for myself, I'm a lost cause anyway.
Anyway, enough about me. You didn't read all that anyway. You're hear for the Shel Silverstein quotes because, like 5-year-old me, you know the score: If you ever need to be brought back to the absolute f*cking center of truth about how to live life, just go where the white-chalk arrows go.
“Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
I still can't think of anything more motivating and reassuring than that.
“Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy.”
There once was a codependent relationship, and it left the tree alone and devoid of her leaves, branches, trunk, and dignity. Shel Silverstein, perennial purveyor of must-follow wisdom, could also be relied upon to reveal the most common and casual emotional tragedies, particularly the ones we willingly throw ourselves into.
“Tell my I'm clever, Tell me I'm kind, Tell me I'm talented, Tell me I'm cute, Tell me I'm sensitive, Graceful and Wise, Tell me I'm perfect -- But tell me the TRUTH.”
I still do not think this is too much to ask.
"But all the magic I have known, I've had to make myself."
When you expect to be solely responsible for creating the magic in your own life — when you stop looking to a job, or a relationship, or a new apartment, or a new city to create it for you — then you basically erase the potential for all the associated disappointment, hurt, and anger when you end up having to make all your own magic anyway.
“When the light turns green, you go. When the light turns red, you stop. But what do you do when the light turns blue with orange and lavender spots?”
There are immovable guidelines for a lot of things in life, which is as comforting as it is occasionally confining and annoying. There are, however, absolutely no answers for so many other things and that's also as comforting as it is occasionally terrifying and disorienting.
And all the colors I am inside have not been invented yet.
Every time I read this, I will instantly become a kindergartener who is feeling, for the first time, like a special unique snowflake who is unlike anyone else in the world...just like everyone else in the world, which is exactly how I believe most people want to feel as much as possible.
“If we meet and I say, "Hi,"
That's a salutation.
If you ask me how I feel,
That's a consideration.
If we stop and talk awhile,
That's a conversation.
If we understand each other,
If we argue, scream and fight,
That's an altercation.
If later we apologize,
That's a reconciliation.
If we help each other home,
And all these ations added up
Language! Interpersonal dynamics! Yes! All of that! I want all of that, please!
How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ‘em. How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ‘em.
Underneath my outside face, There's a face that none can see. A little less smiley, A little less sure, But a whole lot more like me.
We're all a little fake sometimes. It might even be advisable. It might even be natural.
There are no happy endings, endings are sad — so let's have a happy beginning and a happy middle.
Images: Alice Hampson/Unsplash; Giphy(3)