The poet, Pablo Neruda describes an episode in his life that was life-altering. As a child growing up in a poor barrio of Temuco, Chile, he would play in his backyard investigating the tiny objects and minuscule beings of his world. Once, while at play, he came across a hole in one of the boards of the fence surrounding his yard. Looking through the knothole, he saw on the other side a landscape much like his own world, uncared for and wild. Then sensing suddenly that something was about to happen, he pulled back a few steps from the hole and, sure enough, a small hand appeared in that space—the tiny hand of a boy about his own age. When he came close again, the hand was gone and in its place there was a marvelous white sheep, a toy the likes of which he had never seen.
Of the toy sheep, Neruda writes that the wool was faded, and the wheels had escaped but it was the most marvelous gift he had ever known. Knowing immediately what needed to be done, he went into his own home to find his own most treasured possession, a pine cone, opened, full of odor and resin, which he adored. Returning to the opening, he then set it down in the same spot and went off with the sheep.
He writes he never saw the hand or the boy again. And that he never saw again a sheep like that either. The toy would be lost in a fire, and though he continued to cast a furtive glance in every toyshop window for one like it, it could never be matched or replaced. However, his memory of that one incident where gifts were exchanged between strangers marked him and his life as a poet forever. “I have been a lucky man,” he writes. “To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses—that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.” (“Childhood and Beyond”)