The Giving Tree is a children’s book written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein. It was first published in 1964 by Harper & Row, and it tells a beautiful story of the life-cycle of a boy and a tree.
When both the boy and the tree are young, the boy plays under the tree and looks in wonder at the tree’s beauty and majesty. The tree represents all that is grand and strong.
As the boy ages, the tree looks forward to visits from the boy, and the two of them spend lots of time together.
As the boy becomes a man, the man starts needing things from the tree to do what he is called to do. The tree willingly complies and does so with great pleasure. In a grand scene of ultimate sacrifice, the man decides that he needs to cut down the tree and use its trunk for lumber to build his home. The tree gives up its life force for the man.
In the final and uniquely powerful scene, the man becomes old and the stump of the tree remains, the old man returns to the tree, in need of a place to sit. In the last words and pictures of the book, the man sits down on the stump to rest, as both the man and tree near the end of the days. Even in death, the tree continues to give.
Rewind about a month. A dear friend of mine, KC, sends me a message to come by his house after a scheduled lunch, as he wants to give me something to give to my son.
KC had been an avid triathlete as a younger man, and his passion extended to his community, as he taught triathlon at one of our local community colleges. KC was proud of all the races that he had done, including doing an Ironman. KC had a great collection of triathlon “toys” and he loved to train and compete, as we can do these things nearly year-round in central NC. One day, KC was riding on a road near where he lived when he was struck by a van. He spent nearly a year in the hospital and in rehab, learning how to walk again. It was slow going, and many of his normal functions were impaired. He tried many times to overcome his physical setbacks and get on his bike and ride, but he lacked the ability to feel from the waist down, and he found himself battered and bruised, without knowing when or how it happened.
KC invited me to his house to give away his most precious item in his home-his triathlon bike. The item of great significance here is not that he gave me the bike. In fact, he didn’t. Instead, he offered to my son, and boy whom he had only met one time but had seen online, as my son gathered a lot of attention as he built up for his first world championship in Denmark last summer.
As we texted back and forth before going out to lunch this day, he sent me this.
“Tell your son I would like him to use my Cervelo P2C. If he will race on it and can use it, he can have it for free. Does not look like I will be using it again. If he wants it, you can come by and pick it up Thursday.”
“I only ask that if you ever want to get rid of it you give it to someone who a) will use it, b) needs it. I just want pictures of him crushing people on it.”
As I entered the basement of KC’s house to get the bike, he looked at the wall and said, “let me put my good wheels on this thing,” and he took down his most aerodynamic wheels and installed them on the bike. I was speechless, for it was obvious that this was the greatest possession that KC owned.
I was unable to recount this story to my son without choking up. I made it a point to tell him that this represents evidence that the things we do with our lives impact others, whether we see the impact or not.
My son wrote a thank you note to KC, and KC responded with a brief additional bit of wisdom. “I also want him to remember that he should be having fun while he rides. There are some of us who would love to be blessed enough to ride again. I hope he never takes riding or fitness for granted. Stay in touch and send me pictures of him riding!”
My son already has some hours in the saddle of his new ride, and it fits him a whole lot better than his old man’s bike that he used as his own for many years. He is faster now, as the bike fits him perfectly, and I can see his performance on race day increasing.
KC gave his best toy away to a boy who had a bright future. He risked his investment on someone whom he didn’t really know but only on the hope that he could make a difference in his life.
KC may never get to see Alex race on his bike, but if he does, he will see that it has a sticker on the center tube that says, “Alex Gaura” with the US Flag as part of the background, as he proudly represents his country in international competition. Soon, Alex will add another sticker that has KC’s name on it, commemorating this extraordinary gift. Alex’s bike is now worth more than his truck.
I saw KC at an event earlier this week, and I observed his humility in a professional setting. His efforts to grow the community college had created an increase in enrollment by 77% in his department. As he spoke, I saw through that this man and saw the power of his mission to use his days to make a difference. KC didn’t want to touch kids anonymously. He wanted to impact them, one at a time. KC’s lead card is what he gives, and this calling is rare in a world that glorifies selfish achievement.
KC, the giving tree is for you, my friend. I think you can expect a “well done, good and faithful servant,” comment when you reach the pearly gates. At the very least, you impacted my son, perhaps for the rest of his days.
Alex and I discussed his upcoming participation in a few months at duathlon Nationals. This bike will be his sword on the part of the race where most teenagers fall back. Based on his body language, it is obvious that he has already received his high school graduation present.