Then We Found The Rocking Horse
he house was very quiet. My wife and three teen-age daughters had gone to the first of the end-of-year sales in search of clothing bargains. I sat alone in a deep armchair, an unread book on my knees, looking at the snow-covered lawn where we had found the rocking horse fifteen days before. I was remembering those ten hectic days before Christmas when a simple Family Home Evening resolution had opened so many hearts in what had seemed an iron-hearted town.
We had sung and we had prayed; and then Wendy had said from the pinnacle of her twelve years, "Christmas isn't like it used to be, is it? There used to be a funny feeling around the house, all warm and cozy and safe, but I can't feel it any more." The others chimed in with their remarks and a pattern began to emerge.
Christmases had failed because of too much eating, too much television watching, too much wrangling over petty things, too many late nights and late risings, and too much concern for self.
And it looked as though the coming Christmas was going to be the same—a spiritual and family failure. The days would pass and again we would have that terrible, dried out, flat feeling. Was there no way to change the nature of the season in our home? No way to recapture the true spirit of Christmas?
A pause came in the council, and then my wife began to tell us about some young patients at the school for mentally handicapped children where she worked as a physiotherapist several hours a week. She spoke of emotional deprivation, of uncaring parents, of pinching poverty in many homes, of being forgotten because "they only smash things, don't they?" and of little hands empty at the time of giving....
My wife proposed that we as a family gather toys for those forgotten children at the school. Approval of her suggestion was unanimous.
The following day we put our plan into effect. We explained to our friends about the children at the school and asked them for any little gifts they might care to contribute.
We received one or two stony stares and some half-promises—beyond that, nothing. We had only recently moved to that neighborhood, and had scoffed at remarks that the town was a hard town, full of seemingly materialistic, hard-hearted people. Now it seemed to be more than true.
Disappointed at the lack of contributions, we decided that at least we would make a contribution of our own; and so for the next few evenings, after supper was over, we set to making little dolls' beds out of plywood and hardboard, which we then painted in bright gloss paint; my wife supplied miniature mattresses and covers. The kitchen began to look like a Lilliputian army supply base! We made six beds in all.
Still nothing from others; yet we continued to ask. Only six days left to Christmas.
On the fifth day we found a rocking horse standing on the back lawn, shimmer-ing in sunshine and frost, his mane worn but triumphant, his eyes wild with the sight of battle, and in his ears the thunder of the captains and the shouting. On the ground beside him stood a cardboard soapbox full of assorted toys. To this day their coming is a mystery to us. And yet it seemed to be a sign, for that very day people began arriving at the front door with gifts for the forgotten children at the school.
One distant neighbor, a single man, lonely and stiff, a man not even invited to contribute, crossed the street to my wife and blurted out:
"Look here, I haven't anything moneywise; but I have been saving little toy motor cars in matchboxes. I get them from the garage. Every time I buy six gallons of petrol they present me with another motor car. I've got 20 altogether. Well, no man has ever asked me to help in something like this, so I'd like to do my bit now. I'll bring the motor cars along to your house tomorrow night and you can be Santa Claus for me." And he turned away to hide his embarrassment; but when the following evening came, he was there on the step with his 20 motor cars.
An even greater surprise waited at my office. One young man had been reared in London's harsh East End—a man of prejudice and heated temper to whom my attempts to live my religion were a waving flag to a bull. But that day he came to me and said:
"You and I are no great friends—in fact, I wouldn't help you to the end of the street if you had both big toes fractured; but those children at the school are something different. I see their faces every time I close my eyes. Ginny and I were talking about them and wondering how we could help; and we've decided to give the best we have. In my spare moments, I model and paint airplanes. We hang them from the ceiling at home and admire them from time to time; but beyond that they do nothing, so we thought we would give those. And what does it matter if the kids do smash them up playing with them? An hour’s pleasure for such a child is well worth the loss of a few models to us."
That very afternoon he produced a large selection of model airplanes.
When I arrived home that evening, my wife and children had similar experiences to relate—of shy strangers and generous enemies—and of friends, too—all of whom were haunted by visions of the empty-handed children; our front room overflowed with their gifts.
The following day the school van called at our home, and the gifts were loaded on board and delivered to the headmistress to distribute to the children. And that was that.
None of those who contributed gifts ever asked for or received recognition or thanks. At the school only the headmistress ever knew from where the gifts had come. The rest was silence.
But as I sit here in the twilight after Christmas, I wonder if the spirit that permeates our home permeates theirs. For we as a family found again in service to others the real spirit of Christmas. The very walls are alive with sweetness and calm.
And as the winter day moves toward its early close, and the cold stars stare down and the snow upon the lawn reflects back the light from my windows, I think upon the true nature of the universe; for from this small miracle at Christmas, I have learned that every act of man reaches out into the universe. Wheels turn, the gears mesh, eternal balances are set in motion, and the earth is changed by the little secrets of kindness that have no significance at all to any earthly historian.
Derek Dixon, The Ensign of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dec 1973