One of my favorite books is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. It’s a simple story about a young boy and his tree. The young boy as a child has a great time playing with the tree, but as he grows older, the boy needs its fruit for money, its branches for a home, and its trunk for a boat. Finally, the boy is so old he only needs a place to rest, so the tree offers her stump to rest on. The Giving Tree is a great book to teach children about love and sacrificial giving.
Somewhere along the line my parents instilled in all their children the act of giving. Whether it was through examples or words, they taught us the importance of sacrificial giving. Oddly enough though, one of the best lessons I learned about giving was not from Mom and Dad, but from my little sister Elizabeth.
We were on vacation in St. Augustine, Florida. Elizabeth was four, Sam was seven, and I was probably nine years old. In order to really appreciate this story, you have to understand that Elizabeth was at the age where a nickel was worth more than a dime because the nickel is bigger, and a quarter (especially in my family) was worth about a million dollars.
We woke up early one morning to tour a historical site. There was a light fog in the air as the side-street stores were opening. Dad and Sam were walking up front, I was in the middle, Mom was behind me, and Elizabeth trailed about ten feet behind Mom. Up ahead of us a store owner had just opened up and was leaning against his doorframe, enjoying the fresh morning air with a cup of coffee lazily held in his hand. When dad walked by the man he nodded a hello and in due course Sam and I did the same. It was a couple of steps after that when I heard a slight kerplunk. I looked over my shoulder to notice the man starring strangely at Elizabeth and then into his coffee. My sister in her innocence mistook the store owner for a homeless man, holding out his cup, begging for money. When she saw what she perceived as a man in need, she pulled out her million-dollar quarter and dropped it into the man’s cup of coffee. We walked away as the man shook his head in bewilderment at what just happened.
If I hadn’t turned around, no one would have known what Elizabeth had done because she never told anyone. She did what she thought needed to be done. Although she was young and used only a quarter, Elizabeth maturely demonstrated a valuable lesson of giving secretly, with love and sacrifice, even if it is our million-dollar quarter.
Excerpt from "A Leader's FOCUS" © 2012 Thomas Dismukes