I have to get this out of the way: I am not a great gift-giver. When there is an important occasion that requires a gift I start to fret about it weeks before the date. The fretting, however, does no good – it usually just morphs into last-minute panic as the day approaches and I end up doing exactly what I had hoped to avoid: giving some sort of default gift that is not particularly special to the recipient and elicits a “thank you” of the most perfunctory kind.
That is why I am particularly proud of one of the very few (the only?) gift-giving successes I’ve had….
When I became engaged in 2002 to (my now-wife) Tara, apart from all the usual emotional turmoil surrounding wedding-planning and a major life-change, I started worrying almost immediately about the wedding gift. This one had to be good – perhaps it would make up for the other times – every other time? – in our relationship I failed to think of something meaningful to mark a special occasion or birthday. I had about 11 months to find a gift – easy, a piece of cake, no?
Well, as you may have guessed, 11 months turned into 10, 9, 8… and pretty soon it was two months before our wedding and I was still at a loss. I flipped through magazines, browsed online, but… nothing.
My wife is a very curious person and has lots of interests, so this shouldn’t have been too difficult. It was clearly a “me” issue – why did I lack the creativity to think of a good gift?
We were now in the last stages of planning the wedding and had even chosen the wedding readings when it hit me… the wedding readings! My wife has always been fascinated with the Middle Ages and illuminated manuscripts in particular. “Hmmm…,” I thought, “wouldn’t it be amazing if I could find an early illuminated manuscript page for one of the readings?”
In the more sober moments that followed, however, I fell back into reality. It was a ridiculous idea – I only had a few weeks until the wedding, what would be the odds that I could find one of the readings that quickly? Also, our readings were two of the most popular at weddings (I Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind…”; Ecclesiastes: “It is better therefore that two should be together, than one…”) – wouldn’t other people over the years have had the same idea? Wouldn’t they be very rare on the market?
Well… sometimes in life, time and luck are on your side. Over the next few days I scoured dealers’ listings and… voila! I found a webpage advertising a magnificent leaf – a folio leaf from the year 1247, much earlier than I could have dreamed – of the Corinthians reading. Nervously, I called the dealer – one of the best in the field. It was probably an old listing, long sold, I thought as I dialed, keeping my expectations in check, but wondrously the leaf was still available. I of course said I’d take it and breathed a great sigh of relief. Before hanging up, however, I decided to push my luck, adding casually, “You wouldn’t by chance have…” and I read the text of the other reading.
I don’t know if it was because the stars were aligned for me that day, or that I was wearing my lucky socks, or that I had earned enough credit from the fortune fairies from decades of poor gift-giving, but to my near disbelief, I heard, “Yes, why in fact I do – a matching leaf from the same manuscript.”
As you can imagine, my wife was astonished when I presented her with the leaves on our wedding day. I must have looked to her like some sort of magician, or one of the world’s most skilled treasure hunters. “Did I have to search the globe for these?” she wondered, “Call in some special connections?” I gave vague, evasive answers – it was of course more fun to appear heroic – and up to this moment, I’m not sure she really knows the true story. A web search and a phone call, after all, are hardly the stuff of legend.
Over the years the leaves have found a permanent place on our living room wall and occasionally visitors ask about them. What impresses them is the date – 1247. “Wow – the leaves bring you right back to the past – almost 800 years ago!” And they are right; for me, yes, the leaves bring me back to the year 1247, but more importantly back to a bright sunny day in 2003 when my wife and I began our new life together.
And in case you are wondering, this didn’t break my streak. In fact, I immediately started a new streak of bad gift-giving, 17 years and counting.
Note: I encourage you to share your stories of the perfect book/manuscript-related gift in the comments below.