Selfless Love
  • Tue, 09/15/2015
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One of the world’s most well-known stories is Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” It is a classic children’s story that has been translated into more than thirty languages. It is one of those books that is equally good for readers from eight years old to eighty. It is a symbolic fable rich in beautiful connotations.

It starts out with a great apple tree and a little boy who would play around her. He would climb up her branches and eat from her fruit, and when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade. The boy loved the tree very much, and the tree loved the boy.

But time went by, and the boy grew older, and the boy stopped playing around the tree.

Then one day, the boy came to the tree sad. The tree invited the boy to play, but the boy said: “I am not small any more. I have grown up!”

(Look how much his ego had asserted itself and how he saw himself above the one who cared so much for him when he was small. Look how fast we forget those who first cared for us.)

The boy needed money to buy some things. His selfish ego was beginning to assert itself.

So the tree said: “Take my apples, boy, and sell them.”

And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and sold them.

But the boy forgot about the tree for a long time, preoccupied with his own life, time and the tree was very sad.

And then one day the boy came back as a full-grown man and the tree was elated to see him, and she invited him to play with her again.

He said: “I am a man responsible for a family. I need a house to give them shelter.”

She said: “You may remove all of my branches and build a house.”

And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away happily to build a house.

For another very long time the tree waited, and finally the boy came back to the tree feeling depressed. He said: “I am too old and sad. I want a boat that will take me away from here. Can you give me a boat?”

The tree said: “Cut down my trunk and build a boat.”

And after a long time the boy came back again and the tree was happy.

“I am sorry, boy”, said the tree, “but I have nothing left to give you. My apples are gone.”

“No matter. I don’t have the teeth for apples”, said the boy.

“My branches are gone,” said the tree. “You cannot swing on them or sit in them.”

“I am too old to do any of that,” said the boy.

“All I have left is a dead stump,” she said crying.

“All I need,” said the boy, “is a place to sit and rest. I am very tired after all these years.”

She suggested to the boy to sit and rest in the place where she had taken care of him all those years, and she was happy that he would spend his final days with her.

The tree in the story is a symbol of selfless giving, renewal, and life. She might be the mother. Who else would be carry out such a supportive role without receiving any material benefit in return? Is there anyone else so happy to carry out that role?

One of the story’s lessons is that adults are defined by the ego, but the one who loves does not know children from adults, for the beloved is always a child to them.

Love is always ready to yield, while the ego never is. Love finds joy in giving, while the ego finds it in taking. Love provides contentment, whereas the ego fuels perpetual discontent.

Many of us, as adults, have no time for love. Our time is completely absorbed in our materialistic goals. The ego seeks wealth because it is power. The larger its possessions grow and the greater its bank balance gets, the smaller the person becomes in comparison, and the person’s humanity diminishes.

Love is the strength of weakness and the weakness of strength. Love does not wait for thanks. It being accepted is thanks enough. Love gives without taking. The ego takes without giving; if it gives, it does so in order to get something else like praise, status, influence, or compensation.

The ego might see love as a sort of foolishness or an illusion. Loves sees the ego as foolishness and an illusion. Those who live only to satisfy their egos live only once and die quickly. Those who live for the sake of others live many times over, and their spirit is shared through all of theirs.

To be fair, there are a lot of people who possess the qualities of generosity and sacrifice. I know about a businessman who wanted to move his parents into a beautiful spacious, new house, but like elderly people, they preferred to remain where they were, and they said: “Let us stay here for a while. When we have passed on, you can go wherever you want.”

So the businessman had planned for his parents a rare surprise. He built for them an estate on a green, wooded, and furnished the house with great care. The construction had taken an extra-long time, so as to leave the hill in pristine condition. He even had the house gift-wrapped!

He had taken his parents on vacation, and when they returned, he took them to the hillside and watched as they stood their looking in amazement at the giant, mysterious wrapped gift.

When the house was revealed, he saw their faces light up, their tears of joy, and how moved they were with gratitude.

Instinct or Habit?

Is love born from friendship, or is it just an instinctive reaction?

Love is a natural instinct, while cultivation and sustaining love is an emotional habit. It is not impossible to get the heart to obey.

The Prophet said: “None of you truly believes until I have become more beloved to him than his child, his parents, and all humanity.”

Upon hearing this, `Umar said: “Messenger of Allah, you are more beloved to me than everything but my own self.”

The Prophet said: “Nay, I swear by Him in whose hand is my soul, until I am more beloved to him than his own self.”

Then `Umar said: “Then, by Allah, you are more beloved to me than my own self.”

The Prophet said: “Now you have it, O `Umar.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī]

I Love You, but…

Love does not have any need for hedging. It is the pull of the heart and the longings of the soul. Is there any need to say: “I love you, but I disagree with you”?

Are there any two people who do not disagree on some things? Is the time when you express your love the appropriate time to bring up your disagreements?

It may be that if you did not disagree with me, you would never have loved me and I would never have loved you. People look for something different for their affections. They already love themselves.

Neither fellowship nor love between two people means absolute agreement on everything, nor is it a dissolution of each person’s distinct personality, nor does it require one person to become a follower of the other. The dearest person in the world to you will disagree with you, and love will remain despite that disagreement. It does not have to bring enmity. Love can weather a storm; it might be shaken for a while, but then it returns to the hearts just as it was.

Forgiveness and tolerance are qualities of strength, where we show we have power over our negative feelings and control ourselves in anger. Allah praises the people who: “when they are angry, they forgive.” [Sūrah al-Shūra: 37]

Then you have: “I love you, but I will preserve my dignity, identity, and self-respect.”

But of course! All the same, love does not accommodate such account-taking, and being lenient or accommodating to the one you love is in no way shameful or humiliating.

Then you have: “I love you silently, but I cannot reveal it.”

You are not capable of this. True love is revealed through your eyes, your looks, and your expressions, even if you do not express it in words. Expressions of love sustain love like water sustains the tree, keeping it lush and preventing it from drying out.

Then you have: “I love you, but the pain you caused me has gone deep into my heart.”

Your heart, that still loves even though it has been wounded, belongs to Allah. Who don’t you condition your heart to forget the pain and be more open to the occasions of joy and cheer that come your way?

Then you have: “I love you, but I am so jealous.”

Are you satisfied to allow love to become selfish and self-centred? Don’t you know that jealousy is the key that opens the door to separation? Why do you succumb to jealousy when there is no reason for suspicion? For the sake of love, you need to push away negative feelings. Rely upon prayer and Allah’s remembrance to fortify the weakness in your character.

Then you have: “I love you, but I know that it is impossible to reach you.”

Nothing is impossible for one who believes in Allah, and knows that He is capable of all things. The means to reach the beloved are as numerous as our breaths and our thoughts.

Then you have: “I love you, but we are fated to be apart.”

Our feelings of love are equally Allah’s decree. A believer repels Allah’s decree with Allah’s decree. When the hearts of the two beloved people are together, the distance between their bodies does no harm.

Then you have: “I love you, but do you love me.”

If you have preceded me in an act of virtue, the least I can do is respond in an equally good manner. If I am unable to initiate such responses like you do, I can learn from you and follow in your footsteps.

Then you have: “I love you, but in my own way.”

That is your right. People, in their heart’s longings, take various paths. Maybe, you do not have a gift with words. It is enough for me that your heart is pure and your words are sincere, and that you are faithful to the one you love whether that person is present or absent.

Then you have: “I love you, but how is it I can forget you?”

I hope that Satan will never prevail in causing you to forget your beloved. Love is not a prison from which we hope to break free. If you are beset with forgetfulness, this is a sign of a lack of effort or due to some wrongdoing; something that has gotten between you and me. So beseech Allah’s forgiveness from every sin that could cause a breach between you and your kindred spirit.

Then you have: “I love you, but I have changed.”

True love is a feeling deeply imbued in the heart. Its manner can change, but it does not transform into something else and it does not go away. Even death does no obliterate it. Allah tells us that in the Hereafter: “Close friends, on that Day, will be foes to each other, except for the righteous.” [Sūrah al-Zukhruf: 67]