I've kept this thing through the years because I learned an important lesson back when I got it in kindergarten.
Here's the story:
Before the Christmas break, my kindergarten teacher went on vacation. When she came back, she brought a bunch of pine cones she collected during her camping trip. She announced that she would like to give them to us one by one, and asked that we get in line.
Predictably, anytime there is free stuff, no matter how senseless, any group of kids quickly becomes a volatile mob. In a brief moment of clarity, I thought, "Nathan, you don't need to be first. How about you let the others get in line before you?"
As a result, I was literally the last student in line. When it was finally my turn, and everyone else was busy comparing the ones they got, trying to see whose was the biggest/best, my teacher reached into her bag and got a panicked look on her face. She realized she had accidentally miscounted and didn't have any left. She looked devastated, so I told her it was no big deal. It was a little sad for me because I really was looking forward to getting mine. After all, I was one of those kids who can so quickly turn into a mob. I went back to my seat, and didn't notice when my teacher slipped out of the room while her aides took over the lesson.
A few minutes later, she returned, and announced her mistake to the class. She then said the other kindergarten teacher in the school was handing out pine cones as well and happened to have one extra. She then presented me with my pine cone, but the other teacher had taken the time to flock hers so it looked like it had snow on it. All of the other kids noticed the difference and seemed a little disappointed that they had pushed ahead of me in line.
Oddly, this was a profound teaching moment for me. I learned that being nice is not a sign of weakness and that good things happen to those who are kind. As I've grown and watch people get ahead of the game through deceit and ruthless behavior, I've kept this little pine cone as a reminder that they will get their reward and I will get mine.
In the end, they may have a bigger car and a nicer house, but I'll be able to live with myself and will have a clear conscience. Sometimes the rewards won't look like they match, but not everything can be measured tangibly.