After class ended, I hurried to the parking lot to meet two of my friends. As usual they were already there and seemed curious as I walked up carrying a brown paper bag. “What’s in the bag?”, asked one. “You wouldn’t believe the class nightmare I just left”, I replied as I opened the bag and took out the musical doll. They stared and then started laughing hysterically as I told them, detail by detail, what had just happened in Psych. “Sell it in a garage sale or shove in it the closet”, the other suggested. Still laughing they got into their cars and left, leaving me standing in a parking lot holding a doll in one hand and a bag in the other. I remember thinking when I left the class earlier, that this day just couldn’t get any worse. I was apparently wrong. This journey was just beginning.
We are all Traveler’s in one sense or another. Either traveling from point A to point B or traveling through time, living our lives from one day to the next. We are also students of history, our individual history, as each of us is the product of our life’s unique experiences. Simply said, we are who we are because of the life we’ve lived, the choices we’ve made and the lessons we have hopefully learned. As for me, this particular life lesson began 35 years ago and it started with the gift of a well-travelled musical doll.
Psychology, it was my last class of the day. The teacher, Dr. Waltz asked of us only that we pay attention and participate in class discussions, in exchange for which we would only be given a few written assignments and very little homework. As a senior in high school and a slacker, this class was perfect and became an immediate favorite. I could daydream or act interested when it suited me, allowing me to unwind from a hard day of doing as little as possible in my other classes.
It was a large class and the desks were arranged in a square “horseshoe” pattern, which means that no matter where you sat you were staring at a row of people who were staring back at you making it difficult to hide my disinterest. My incessant doodling was reaching epic proportions as I appeared to be taking notes on the daily discussions. One day though, in the middle of an intense doodling session, Dr. Waltz threw out a rare assignment which I’m sure was written down only to be later covered by circles and other doodles until it was lost on the page.
As I later learned, the assignment was to give something of intrinsic value, inexpensive in cost, to another student to experience the freedom of “letting go” of something you loved. He left it wide open and up to us to search ourselves for this “something”. We had about two weeks to decide. Somehow names were exchanged and all that was left was to come up with the item. My exchange partner was Kristine. I knew very little about her other than that she sat directly across the classroom from me, was always nice and that she was a year behind me in graduating. After class was over, I forgot about the whole assignment and went about my business thinking of other “more important” things.
About two weeks later, I wandered into class only to learn that an assignment was due today and that it involved the giving of a gift of intrinsic value. Other students carried bags and boxes of this and that and were busy preparing a speech of some sort as we apparently had to do the exchange in the front of the class explaining to everyone why this “item” meant so much to you. Panic set in as I had nothing to give. Kristine had a large paper bag. I was sick. I began frantically digging through my wallet and miraculously found a business sized card with the name “Jesus” written in block letters. The kind of card that played tricks on your eyes as you had to look hard to see the message. My Mother had given me the card about 2 years before as a reminder to be a good Christian. It had meaning to me but was far below the “standard” that I needed today. I quickly concocted an elaborate story around the card which had then elevated its status to that of a precious family heirloom. It was patently pathetic and I just hoped I could pull this off and in the process not be sent to hell for using the card in this scheme.
I gave my presentation. I told my story. I stared at the class, they stared back, clearly unimpressed. She accepted my card with grace and then it was her turn. I held my breath.
From a brown paper bag, she brought out a doll. It was incredibly beautiful and if you turned her on her pedestal, she played music; Around the World in 80 Days. The doll was clearly aged but well cared for and Kristine held her gently as she passionately told her story. The doll had been given to her by her Great Aunt when her (the Great Aunt’s) Mother had passed away. She (Kristine) was very young when she received this treasured gift and that at that time, things were very hard for her and her family. Throughout this difficult time though she had this doll which represented both beauty and grace and she cherished it dearly. It was a true family heirloom….and now she was giving it to me.
I’m going to be sick, I remember thinking, as I prayed for an earthquake, Tsunami or the Biblical end of times, anything to save me from this moment. I wasn’t going to hell, they had refused and were holding a special meeting to find somewhere worse to put me. I held the doll gently and returned to my desk, refusing to look up. She returned to her desk with my card in her hand. The class continued until the last gift was exchanged and then mercifully, it ended and I left as fast as I could.
That was in California and it was 1982. Never in my life had I been so crushed as I was that day. The guilt was overwhelming. I talked to Kristine once over the next few weeks and tried to give the doll back, but she refused so I assured her that I would take care of her precious gift and asked her to write a note describing the dolls history, which she did. Quietly, I promised myself that someday I would return the doll to her. The semester ended, I graduated and time moved on. I never heard from Kristine again and true to form, lost the note.
The doll became a part of my room, always being somewhere visible. I remember being glad that it wasn’t an old crockpot or a gaudy painting. I guess it really wouldn’t have mattered as long as the back-story was the same. For many years, she has been on top of my dresser protected in a plastic display case. My Children have all grown up with her. I’ve told them the story which I’m sure has been long forgotten. They just know her as “Dad’s doll” and know that she is not to be played with. Over the years, we have moved many times locally and then to another state and in each new house, she has always been placed somewhere close to me, reminding me to be a better person and of the unselfish sacrifice Kristine had made. Whether I’ve learned the lesson or not, can only be answered by those who know me, but she keeps reminding me to try.
35 years have now gone by and she hasn’t changed, still in her case, still able to play music. It’s amazing how much time has passed and how far we have traveled since that awful day. I’ve started to feel different as I look at her. It’s time to keep the promise I had made and return her to Kristine and her family. 35 years is long enough.
In April of this year I finally found Kristine who seemed shocked that I still had the doll. We exchanged thoughts on how the musical doll had affected our lives. She obviously had no idea of what I had done at the time and didn’t even remember the card I had given her. Kristine graciously agreed to take back the gift that she gave to me so long ago. The doll was packaged carefully and has been shipped back to her. I am grateful that she didn’t remember how awful I was and pleased that I actually did keep my promise. It was difficult to say goodbye to such a precious gift that I held for so long a time. I now have an empty spot on my dresser, perhaps I’ll try and find an old bowling trophy or some other meaningless trinket to fill the space. Ultimately it really doesn’t matter what is placed there, I’m sure that I’ll still see the beautiful musical doll reminding me of the girl who had the courage to give up something she cherished and loved to demonstrate the ability to “let go”.