Questions for Discussion
These questions will help you think about how the story in The
Healing Tree can relate to your own life story. They will also
give you ideas for discussing the book with friends and family,
coworkers, and members of a book club.
Carrie Anne’s is a
fictional story, but in a larger sense it is also the story of
millions of people who have transformed
a shattering adversity into the platform for a future miracle.
But people don’t, and can’t, bring about these transforming
miracles without help – lots of help. What is our collective
responsibility – within our families and within society – to
help those who have suffered serious misfortune? What is our individual
responsibility to devote some of our resources (time as well as
money) to helping others?
Patrick Franklin, the CEO of Memorial
Hospital, commented on the fact that there was a lot of pain in
the organization, including
the daily pain experienced by employees. He could have been speaking
about any organization anywhere, couldn’t he? Combining his
comments with those of Pastor Andy Brennan, about how people who
actively participate in support groups can heal more quickly, consider
this question: what can any of us do to give our workplaces more
of the qualities of a support group, in which members are there
for each other, help each other, and when appropriate, pray for
In her speech in the Healing Garden, Carrie Anne challenged
her coworkers to make Memorial the world’s first “misery-free
hospital” by transforming every complaint into either a blessing
or a solution. She acknowledged that this would probably take a
miracle, but added that in the years since her accident she had
grown to routinely expect miracles. Discuss the climate of your
own workplace – how much toxic emotional negativity is there,
and what is the impact on morale, productivity, and even people’s
health? What would it take to mount such a challenge in your organization?
a time when Carrie Anne’s dreams had been shattered, several
people played key roles in helping her find new dreams – Maggie,
Amanda, Evelyn, and others. What is our collective responsibility
to help people find new dreams from the ashes of their nightmares,
and what techniques can we use to do so?
The Gallup organization
has conducted studies showing that many people have strengths that
they are never called upon to use at
work. This could include, for example, a nurse who likes to write
poetry, which is not part of the nursing job description. Should
managers encourage people to find a way to bring a strength to
work? Should employees look for ways to see their job description
as a floor – the basic requirements upon which they add their
own special touch – rather than as a ceiling – an absolute
limit on what they are willing or able to do on the job?
Healing Tree, Dr. Paulson encourages Robbie to think about becoming
a doctor. Yet in the world of today, many doctors are
telling young people to avoid medicine because of the bureaucratic
hindrances and income limitations. What is the responsibility of
the professional (in any profession) to promote his or her profession,
and/or to promote his or her organization?
Maggie told Carrie Anne
that writing poems for others was as much a part of her own healing
as it was the healing of the person for
whom she was writing. One of the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous
is that of “mutuality.” The relationship between the
recovering alcoholic and his or her sponsor is a two-way street.
Being a sponsor is as important for the recovery process as having
a sponsor. How could adopting this philosophy of mutuality help
any of us be more effective as parents, as managers, as coworkers,
and as caregivers? Discuss how this philosophy pertains to your
relationships – at home, at work, and in your community.
her poem The Hope Diamond, Maggie makes the distinction between
false hope and true despair. In our roles as parents, as managers,
and as caregivers, how do we make the judgment as to when to encourage
people to pursue their “impossible” dreams, and when
to tell them to face reality? How do we strike the best balance,
for ourselves and for those we are seeking to help in their own
journeys through life? In discussing this question, it is useful
to consider the distinction between positive thinking and wishful
thinking: Positive thinking is expecting something and working
to make it happen; wishful thinking is hoping for something and
waiting for someone else to make it happen.
At one point, Carrie
Anne uses the term “protective denial.” In
his book Blindsided, Richard M. Cohen describes his experience
in dealing with a devastating illness. He said that for him, “denial
has been the linchpin of the determination to cope and to hope...
Denial encourages anyone to test perceived limits and, as a consequence,
to postpone concessions. There is nothing wrong with that.” Do
you agree, and if so, what is your responsibility to allow someone
else to engage in “protective denial,” even if you
think they are being delusional?
For a long time, Carrie Anne rides
on an emotional roller coaster. In poems like Blue Ice and Resting
in Peace, she is in the pit
of despair. Yet by story’s end, Carrie Anne has started a
new career as a poetry therapist, learned how to ski with special
paraplegic equipment, and become a grandmother. How do people find
the strength and the courage to stay on the roller coaster without
falling off, and what can we do to help out when it hits a downturn?
“Where was God? Why didn’t God do something?” These
are inevitable questions after any sort of tragedy. They are certainly
questions that Carrie Anne asked (and which Andy Brennan did his
best to answer). What do you think? Where was God in this story?
Where is God any time that war, natural disaster, or other tragedy
In discussing her living will with her son Robbie, Carrie
Anne draws a line between life in a wheelchair, which she was willing
to live with and fight for, and life as a brain-diminished human
vegetable being kept alive by machines. This is a hugely controversial
issue in our world today, which has enormous implications for the
allocation of limited medical resources, not to mention human health
and dignity. Where should the line be drawn, why should it be drawn
there, and what will it take to gain public support for that line?
Carrie Anne suggested that she would begin with an electric wheelchair,
Amanda the physical therapist commented on how it would
totally change the way others looked at her. To what extent has
our society stigmatized people with disabilities, and what else
can be done to remind all of us that these fellow human beings
deserve to be treated with equal dignity?
What do you make of Bryan Hammerman’s “rant” about
obese people waddling into shopping malls to stuff their faces
with fast food? What do the various dramas in The Healing Tree tell us about personal responsibility and accountability in our
Thank God Ahead of Time is the title of a book by Father
Michael Crosby. It is also an excellent mindset for dealing with
real or apparent. Many people look back on adversity as having
been a blessing, in the way that Bill Terry (the wheelchair juggler)
did. What can you do to internalize the “Thank God Ahead
of Time” philosophy yourself – before you need it?
How can you help others do the same?