Seeing all the old Christmas trees out on neighborhood tree lawns, waiting to be carted away, reminds me of the year my daughters felt so sorry for the discarded trees they decided to rescue them. The next thing I knew, our back yard was heaped with prickly, dried-up evergreens. Come spring, it was a tumbleweed farm out there.
These are the same girls whose hearts broke for an office building. Cleveland has a somewhat meager skyline, so when BP built a brand new skyscraper on Public Square, it was a very big deal for most of the city. (Never mind that BP has since booked–this was then). But my daughters felt sad and also a little indignant on behalf of the Terminal Tower, which up till then and for many years had been the tallest, most beloved building.
Studies have been done on how empathy takes root (and in the case of the Christmas trees, I guess I mean this literally). I like to think that all the stories they read and heard helped my kids connect with the rest of the world, both the world they themselves directly experienced as well as that of their fellow creatures. I recently read a comment by a teacher on why so many of her students valued reading the novel “Between Shades of Gray”. It’s the little-told story of how horrendously Lithuanians suffered under Stalin, and it doesn’t pull any punches. This teacher said something along the lines of, “I think they liked being included in a more adult world with big, difficult issues, and also being trusted to examine and to experience human suffering and triumph.” I love this teacher! Her respect for what kids are capable of is wonderful.
Yet it doesn’t have to be so big a story as that to poke a hole in them or any of us. A poem or a picture book will do just as nicely. Come to think of it, one of my favorite books as a child was “The Little House”. How I suffered with that little pink house as the city pressed in all around it, and it grew dirty and ramshackle and neglected! I still remember my relief when it was once more restored to a sunny hillside, with flowers all around. Maybe that’s where my daughters got their sympathy for our own sweet, unfortunately named Terminal Tower…