anxiety, birthday, birthday gift, character, children, creativity, disappointment, emotion, friendship, life lessons, love, palpable, poverty, retrospect, school girls, struggking, symbolic, trust
I never imagined as a pupil at John D Primary school ever writing about two of my classmates in years to come. It didn’t occur to me that at the time I was learning valuable life lessons. It is only now in retrospect that I see how important it is to value every thing that life throws at you, however painful. There is wisdom in looking carefully and profoundly at certain events which colour one’s life and paint the picture that is your life. To relegate disappointments to the dustbin of life is to throw away pearls. Pearls are not always beautifully shaped and formed when they are discovered: much goes into the process of refining them so that they become a beautiful adornment. You may wish to wear them or you may wish to lock them away in a vault, but either way, their beauty is evident and can never be lost.
Jenny M taught me about human frailty, loyalty and trust. Jenny C taught me about humility, friendship, gentleness and creativity, and ultimately the act of giving. Now these two shared the same Christian name, but apart from that they differed physically and in their characters. I still recall Jenny M’s brilliant emerald green eyes and raven black hair. She was a very pretty girl and I can only imagine that she would become stunningly beautiful. Jenny C was blonde, blue eyed and not at first obviously pretty, but there was beauty in her genuine smile and those innocent blue eyes. The two were such opposites: light and dark, soft and gentle (JC), tough and a go-getter (JM), both were my friends. Interestingly I see myself in all their characteristics and that could be why I gravitated to them and they to me.
Jenny C taught me about the act of giving and receiving. It was my 11th birthday. When Jenny C found out that it was my birthday she said she had a present at home to give me. I became excited at the prospect of this, wondering what the gift could possibly be. All sorts of things went through my mind and I eagerly awaited the gift. But days went by and there was no gift forthcoming. I became disappointed, then anxious, and finally embarrassed. It was obvious that Jenny C had been untruthful about the gift she had bought me. Each day, for over the course of a week she would come in and not quite meeting my expectant eyes offer up an excuse why she hadn’t been able to bring the gift into school.
It came to the point where I tried in my own way to let her know that I understood that she had made a promise that she was not able to keep. By the end of maybe the second week I had long given up hope of ever receiving anything from her, and I sensed in her something that I couldn’t quite articulate. It was as if she thought so highly of me that she wanted my friendship and she wanted to be able to give me something that would be a symbol of the esteem in which she held me. These are my adult thoughts on the matter and my interpretation of her actions. This is what I felt aged 11, but I would never have been able to put it into words.
Then one Friday, she asked if I could follow her home to pick up the gift as she had forgotten to bring it with her to school. She didn’t live too far away from school and I could go around to her home and get the gift and still be home by the time I was expected home. So I followed her to her house and we entered her bedroom after having greeted her mother. It became obvious that her mother was not very well off and was a single parent. But then neither was my family well off – at the time we were living in two rooms at the top of my uncle’s house.
Jenny C placed the carefully wrapped present in my hands. It was wrapped in what looked like tissue paper and tied with string. I opened it. Inside were some shells, some pebbles and some coloured beads with a small piece of paper on which was written birthday greetings to me. My disappointment was palpable. I didn’t know that at the time as I didn’t know the word ‘palpable’ but having learned it now, I look back and realise that was how I felt.
I had the good grace to offer up a weak smile and thank her very much and off home I went with the gift which I looked at once more when I got home disdainfully before putting it somewhere. I don’t think I looked at it ever again. It is only now through adult eyes that I treasure that gift and how much trouble Janet C had gone to, to give me something to show how important I was to her. In my childish expectant way, I had looked for something which she plainly could not give me. She had no money. Her mother was plainly struggling. She had the creative sense to put together some stones, beads and shells – all she had, tie them up with string and to give them to me with love.
How often is something given to us, something precious, not costing the earth in terms of monetary value, but symbolically valuable? How do we receive the gift of love? And do we recognise it when we see it? Now as an adult I see how precious that gift from Jenny C was. What a contrast to Jenny M’s gift?
Summing up, both gifts were valuable in terms of learning. I have learned that trust needs to be earned and not given away and that precious gifts do not have to cost money. It’s not the gift that is important, it is the act of giving and what it symbolises to me.
~ Marie Williams 2016
* Jenny M and Jenny C are not their real names.