When I was 13, I got a pig-suede jacket for Christmas. It was a nice jacket, but I can still remember the disappointment I felt as I opened the package. Don’t get me wrong; I was grateful for the jacket. But everything about that Christmas was overshadowed by the knowledge that my best friend, Kristen, would be getting a horse for Christmas, the one thing I had wanted with all my heart for as long as I could remember. I was glad for Kristen–she’d wanted a horse as long as I had–but I was also nursing a wounding, self-pitying, envious disappointment that I was not also getting a horse. I’m not sure that I would have really appreciated any gift that year. I can’t even recall anything in particular that I wanted. But the the jacket, a very practical but not very fun gift, seemed particularly bad in comparison to my friend’s joy. I did my best to hide my feelings and enjoy Christmas, and I remember that Kristen tried to help me feel better by telling me that Cowboy (her new horse) was “our” horse, which even now reminds me of how beautiful the spirit of generosity in friendship is. But I couldn’t lie to myself about my feelings.
So, sometime after Christmas, I began plotting and scheming and trying to figure out how to get myself a horse. And I finally asked my dad outright when he was going to buy me a horse, to which he replied that he didn’t have any plans to do so. Where most kids would despair, my dad’s refusal bolstered my own resolve. I remember defiantly saying to myself, “Fine. I’ll buy my own horse.” So I sat down with a pen and paper and calculator and figured out how much money I would need, how much money I could reasonably earn each month, and how long it would take for me to reach my goal. I should tell you that my figures were not entirely accurate, but it was enough to encourage me to put my plan in action.
First, I made a proposal to my mother: I would clean the house every week for whatever she thought was fair to pay me. She agreed, and I started that job immediately. Then, in the Spring, I started my other job–mowing the yard at the small office complex where my dad’s office was located. This was a job that we had started as a family when my brother and I were fairly young, and then my brother and I had done it together for a time, and now it was my job by myself. I also did any other odd jobs I could whenever they came along.
To my surprise, I was able to purchase a saddle at the end of the summer, and by late Fall, I had about enough money to by a decent horse, and I began looking. I rode a couple of horses without feeling particularly impressed, though I would have bought the first horse I looked at if Mom hadn’t insisted that I keep looking. I became a frequent reader of the classifieds, but none of the horses listed jumped out at me. By this time, I had been enchanted by Tigger, who belonged to a client of my dad’s, even though he wasn’t trained. And finally, in December, I decided that Tigger was the horse for me, and I asked my parents to get in touch with the owner and find out if they would be willing to sell and for how much.
Then, my parents stalled. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time, so it was an anxious few weeks for me as I waited to learn if my heart’s deepest desire would be satisfied. Could I afford Tigger? Would his owner’s even be willing to sell him? I kept asking if they had talked to the owners yet, and they kept stalling.
Christmas rolled around again, and for the first time in years, I did not ask for a horse. And I did not feel bad that I wouldn’t get a horse. That year, whatever I got would be fantastic because I was planning on getting myself the gift I’d been waiting for most of my life. I felt joyful and excited as my family gathered around the tree to open our presents. My mom took the job of gift-giver, saving one gift, labeled “From Dad To Shanna,” until all the others had been opened. I had no idea what was in it, though any onlookers might have guessed from the expectant expressions on my family’s faces.
Inside the box was a stuffed Tigger toy, which I thought was cute, albeit a strange gift from my dad. Pleased with what I had, I was confused when my mom said, “Shanna, there’s more.” I began perusing the tissue paper still in the box, and finding nothing, my mom finally had to spell it out for me. The doll was symbolic; the real gift was the horse Tigger. Dad had been so impressed with my dedication and hard work that he purchased the horse for me.
And so in consecutive years, I received a gift that was marked by disappointment and then one that was marked by joy unlike anything I had ever experienced. The funny thing is that now, I laugh to myself a little when I think of that jacket–which, by the way, I wore until just about a year ago–as the worst Christmas present I’ve ever received. Because, although the jacket itself was good, the real gift of the jacket was the journey it set me on. I’m so glad that my parents didn’t get me a horse that year. If they had, I would have missed out on that year of hard work, setting and achieving goals, and the sense of empowerment that comes from self-reliance. I would have missed all the character-building life lessons that I learned during that year of intense waiting and anticipation. And–worst of all–I would have missed out on my fantastic Tigger, another anam cara, who has done everything I’ve ever asked him and whom I sometimes think of as my Houyhnhnm master because of how much he has taught me over the years. Sometimes, waiting is a very good thing.