Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Chicken Soup for the Couple's Soul


I just finished reading the Chicken Soup for the Couple's Soul. Believe me when I say reading this will make you appreciate your partner so much more. It helped me realize a lot of things. And most importantly, it made me grateful for what I have with the H2B and made me love him more.

A story that I can truly relate to is called "The Greatest Gift of All". It's about a wife who grew up watching her father buy gifts for her mom and the rest of the family. She badly wanted to make her husband just like her father but eventually came to appreciate him the way he is. Here's the story:

It took me a long time to understand the difference between a present and a gift. For years, I thought of the two as the same thing.

I grew up in a household where presents marked special occasions. There is always a beribboned box for each of us under the tree at Christmas, or at our place at the table on our birthdays.

Additionally, Dad always gave Mom something each Valentine's Day and anniversary - cards, a box of chocolates, some token, eagerly offered. He loved to shop and would carefully plan his excursions to find just the right thing - a sweater in "her color", a velvet skirt for Christmas, some flattering expansion of her wardrobe. 

I often accompanied him on these shopping expeditions. His joy in the hunt was infectious, proof of the pleasure of giving and his love for her. I came to see these presents as the desirable norm, the tangible expression of a husband's devotion, their absence a visible lack.

So when I married a man who did not give presents on a regular basis, it was an adjustment. I wrestled with my ingrained expectations. Gary did not wholly eschew gift-giving. Sometimes he would return from sea armed with a brown paper bag inside of which was something he had found that reminded him of me - a meat cleaver on our first Christmas, a paring knife on our fifth. 

Once, in acknowledgement of how many hours I spend on the telephone - for both work and pleasure - he brought home a shoulder pad for the telephone receiver. But mostly, he ignored holidays, refusing to shop for a thing to present to me as a sign of his affection.

I could not reconcile this present-less marriage with the one I had grown up observing. I tried to change him by example. I knitted him sweaters, socks, hats and gloves for Christmas; made him shirts; bought him books for his birthdays. He appreciated the caring these gifts represented, but refused to reciprocate in kind.

I dropped hints, they fell on deaf ears. I pouted, complained, explained and ranted. Nothing changed.

I began to tell him what I wanted, giving specific instructions. When Gary left for the local auction on Saturday (my birthday, as it happened), I asked him to find me a piece of jewelry, a bracelet or diamond earrings, as a birthday gift. He came home with a road scraper. I was stunned that he had missed the mark by so much. He attached the rusted blade to the back of the ancient tractor, then enthusiastically showed me how to use it, oblivious to the fact that I was not grateful. 

But when the blizzard hit later that year and he was at sea, I used the road scraper to plow out both our drive and the neighbor's, thinking, as I rumbled along, how useless earrings would have been. Gary had wisely chosen not the thing that I wanted, but the thing he knew I would need. 

It was then that I finally realized that he had been giving me gifts all along. He would not be cajoled or coerced into handing over a scheduled token, an arbitrary tax of his affections. But the gestures, large and small, born of his caring and concern for me, for our children, and for our lives together were the gifts that he gave daily. 

His teaching me to manage my own earnings was a means of ensuring my capability and independence, a gift that bore other fruit when I used it to help my father sort out his affairs.

Gary encourages my work, makes obvious his pleasure in our time together, willingly cooks, runs errands, does laundry, vacuums and chauffeurs the children - gifts to the whole family and an expression of our partnership.

The day before he leaves for sea, he stacks a month's worth of firewood against the chimney outside my office, and a week's worth inside, a labor of time and effort that frees me of a disliked, time-consuming, but absolutely necessary chore.

We struggle to teach others how to love us. In that struggle we often forget how to appreciate the love that they give us as only they can give it. There are two parts to a gift - the giving and the accepting. Neither can be dictated. 

I finally began to understand the difference between a present and a gift. A present is a thing. But a gift is broader and often intangible. It is a small act of kindness, the willingness to bend to another's needs, the sacrifice of time and effort. Love is a gift. Any expression of it, freely given, is an offering from the  heart that is immeasurably better than a present. 

My insistence on presents must have seemed to Gary a lack of appreciation of the gifts he had been giving all along, but he never stopped giving them. 

Gary will be home this Christmas, but I don't express a present. I already have the greatest gift.

Before I proceed, please know that I do not mean any infringement of rights by posting this story in my blog. This is only to share what touched me most in the book that I have just read.

This story reminds me of all the times I got upset because when the H2B was still here in Manila with me, he was not a gift kind of guy too. And I was like the wife in this story. I grew up in a household where gift-giving was a token of love and appreciation. So I would become upset if the H2B did not get me anything for special occasions. But just like the wife in this story, the H2B was giving me gifts all along. Like when he wakes up extra early just so he can drive me to work, even if it was out of the way to go to his. Or when he went back to our house from his site to get something that I left which was necessary for my report at the office, even if it meant he would have to extend hours afterwards just so he can finish his own project at the site to make up for the lost hours when he had to do the errand for me. Or when he brings me water instead of shake when I am thirsty because he was worried about my sugar level. Reading this story made me see things in a different angle, and it made me realize what a lucky girl I am to have someone like him in my life.

There are a lot of other stories that really warmed my heart, but this here is my favorite.

I am now starting my next book, it's called Chicken Soup for the Bride's Soul. I will be sure to share my favorite story here too.

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