Gift of the Magi revisited
O. Henry's short story "Gift of the Magi" tells of a husband and wife who sacrifice their prized possessions to buy Christmas gifts for each other. The gifts they bought were, ironically, incomplete because of what they sacrificed. What is a watch band without the watch? What worth is a comb without the hair?
I experienced the Gift of the Magi when I decided to go to England to study. I told my best friend that I was coming to England and we'd be able to see each other more often. What a surprise it was to learn that she had been planning a trip to Taiwan and that she had gotten accepted to a Mandarin-training programme there. We spent that fateful year in opposite ends of the earth, homesick in foreign environments. When I finished my studies, I was sent to work in Singapore where we managed to rendezvous for a few days.
Here is another story. It just goes to show that life is full of paradoxes and ironic situations. Just when you think you've found the perfect solution, you discover that you don't have any solution at all.
Rita, a career woman, decided to take a long break to destress, detox, and prepare herself for a more sedate home life, one that might include children. Her relationship with Alex had been growing strongly and positively for the past three years. Although he had a bad experience in his first marriage, he expressed a willingness to give it another go --- but he wasn't all too clear about becoming a father for the second time.
Still, Alex knew how important it was for Rita, who had gone through various medical tests. The only way she could conceive at her age was through in vitro (IVF), something that he wasn't too sure of. Having children by natural conception or adoption would be fine. But going against nature?
He didn't have the heart to tell her how he felt about having children. In fact, he never wanted to have children. It got in the way of his career. The first time was an accident, and it proved him right. His career suffered. He swore he would never let a woman get her way again.
Yet he refrained from telling her early in their relationship how strongly he felt about not wanting to have children, in case he might lose her. He kept it vague so that she only sensed his reservations but didn't know for sure.
They agreed to go for the first cycle of IVF and see what would happen. Little did he know that every pill Rita took to prepare for the hormone injections, she became more and more psychologically prepared for motherhood. Everywhere she looked, she saw mothers with their children. In fact, all she saw were children, couples with children, mothers nursing their babies. She imagined her next career to be motherhood, something she would tackle with the same determination and seriousness as she did her previous careers.
On the day before commencement of the IVF, Alex woke from a terrible dream. He was living his previous life again, struggling to make ends meet with a wife who no longer cared about him and a baby who demanded constant attention. With a face as black as death, he said to Rita, "No. I don't want to have children. I don't want any children."
Shocked at his reaction, she backed down. "Okay, we won't have children then." It was total and utter rejection of her womanhood. And later when she learned that he never wanted children in the first place, she felt betrayed.
When things settled down, he said to her, "Why did you give in so easily?"
"Because I love you, and I don't want to see you like this."
"You know that the only reason I will do it, go through IVF, is for you. That you want it," he said.
"I know," she said. "And I would give up this chance because you don't want it."
Gift of the Magi is a bittersweet tale of love and sacrifice. But the question remains, will you really get what you want by giving up what you already have?
12 May 2004 Wednesday
Gift of the Magi by O.Henry
Reaction from a reader:
The last sentence of your "Gift of Magi" journal is the key. The importance, however, is that although compromise is useful and even necessary to solve various problems in society and family and even in the international realm, compromise is not a cure-all, particularly for problems that involve fundamental principles, such as below.
Lifestyle: how can one stand one's spouse who loves to gamble, smoke, drink and/or even take drug? How can one who has sense of saving money or invesment for the future stand one's spouse who squander money away and just never feel saving is important.
The differences in lifestyle includes a great variety. It's the habit that has a long history and family background.
A tease of destiny:
In Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms," regarded as his best work and voted by readers as one of the best 100 novels in world. Read its last chapter, if you can, and you will see how a baby could be born and why Catherine said: "It's just a dirty trick."