Last year's best present was from neither friend nor loved one. It was given to me by life. One of those rare lessons that grows more beautiful in memory as time passes.
But when life tried to give it to me, I threw a bit of a tantrum. I did not want it. I stomped my feet, sniffed hard, determined not to cry though I wanted to, and did everything within my power to keep from taking it. But life persisted. She was insistent that I accept it and when, at last, I did, I was amazed by its gorgeousness then stunned by how close, due to my stubbornness, I came to missing it.
It was an unusually busy November and December, with lots of work and much travel. I had one more business trip to make before Christmas then I could come home, settle down and enjoy the holidays. I anticipated that with eagerness.
A few days before Christmas, I flew to New York to have lunch with a buyer from the nation's largest chain of bookstores. She had already made a big commitment to support my upcoming book and wanted me to shoot some video for their Web site. I also planned to dine with my agent, spend the night, then grab an early morning flight home.
With a couple of free hours to spend, I pulled my hat down over my ears, wrapped my throat from the cold in a colorful scarf and marched over to the New York Times to see Winnie, a childhood friend, who is now a high-ranking editor there. She thrilled me by inviting me to sit in on the "front page" meeting then graciously toured me around the newspaper. She walked me out and commented on the growing dark grayness of the skies.
"There's a big snow storm coming in. They've already closed my children's school for tomorrow."
I whirled around. My mouth dropped. This was breaking news that I had somehow missed. "What!" I exclaimed. "When? Are you sure?"
She smiled and nodded. "You may be stuck here for a couple of days. Call if you need me."
That's what happened. When I returned to my hotel from dinner with my agent, the airline called, announced the cancellation of my flight -- 14 hours before the first snowflake fell -- and rescheduled me for three days later. I desperately wanted to leave. I did everything possible to find a way home -- plane, train, car -- but to no avail. I did not accept my fate with good cheer.
My publisher called and beautifully rose to the occasion. They moved me to the best hotel in town and said, "See a Broadway play, anything you want and send us the bill. Just be comfortable and have a good time."
Resigned finally to my imprisonment in NYC, I headed down to Macy's in the blowing snow, bought a pair of snow boots and settled in to enjoy my capture by the Yankees. Once I got my attitude right, it became one of the sweetest times of my life.
Those few days showed me Manhattan at its best: Wrapped in snow, Christmas lights, big red bows and lots of cheer. In a city of diversity, signs blinked "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Hanukkah" and I was warmed from the wet chill by repeated kindnesses from strangers.
Early on Saturday morning, I quietly absorbed the beauty of Rockefeller Center, watching a few ice skaters, admiring the huge, lighted tree and 20-foot toy soldiers. Over the loud speakers, Bing Crosby crooned "White Christmas" followed by "Silver Bells." I softly sang along, "It's Christmastime in the city."
Again, I looked at the astounding beauty around me, my eyes opened reluctantly to it. "Thank you, Lord," I whispered. "This is a wonderful present. I'm sorry I was so ungracious."
I hated to go home.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)" and "The Town That Came A-Courtin'."