Priorities

A lesson in what’s really important.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY P. SAVAGE

I‘d like to tell you a story.

Yesterday, I went to the Minnesota Bonsai Society auction. There were dozens upon dozens of trees up for bidding in both the live and silent auctions. I bid on a couple of maples in the silent auction, but they ended up going a bit high for my taste. I wasn’t too concerned, though, as the two trees which had really taken my fancy were coming up in the live auction. They were the only two ginkgos in the room. I’d lived in Japan for a while, where I learned to appreciate the beauty of gingkos. One of them was pretty good, and it had a reserve (minimum selling price) of only $50. The other was definitely nicer, aesthetically speaking, but it had a higher reserve: $75. Of course, like so many auctions, the things you’re interested in won’t come up until near the end. I saw a lot of beautiful trees come and go, some selling for hundreds of dollars—well beyond their reserve. All the while, I waited for my ginkgos, wondering what sort of price they’d command.

He looked at me,
smiled, and said he wasn’t going to bid against me and that it was my tree.

There was a fellow sitting next to me, and we started talking. It turns out he’d also lived in Japan. We chatted about the differences in culture and what not, interspersed with musings on the beauty or otherwise of the various offerings as they came to the floor. Presently, this gentleman asked if he might inquire as to what I was most interested in. It turned out that we were both particularly waiting for the ginkgos. It also turned out that of all the many, many trees in the live auction, we both liked that one particular ginkgo tree the best. It seems our time in Japan had left us both finding the ginkgo to be a particularly evocative species, and this was just a lovely example of that tree.

Anyoldhow…presently the ginkgo with the $50 reserve came up for bidding. I stuck with the other bidders up to around $85 or so, and then it flew up out of my grasp. Oh. “If that’s what the worse one went for, I guess that’s that,” I mused.

My newfound acquaintance then started bidding on one of the other trees he was interested in—and went up much higher than my potential budget for any tree before calling it quits.

And so there remained only one tree we both wanted, the one we wanted more than any of the others we’d bid on. By now it was obvious that he could outbid me six ways from Sunday. I almost felt like asking him what his max bid was going to be—even though it would most assuredly be higher than mine—so I wouldn’t raise the price unnecessarily for him if it were just the two of us bidding in the later stages. I was really quite fond of the chap, and I didn’t want him paying more money than he had to on my account. As I said, he was definitely prepared to pay more for the tree than I. That wasn’t even a question.

Still. I stuck around.

When there were fewer than a dozen trees to go, our prized ginkgo finally came to the floor. We both knew the reserve was $75, so when the auctioneer called out a starting bid of $25, I decided to cut to the chase and shouted out, “SEVENTY-FIVE!”

This had the desired effect of scaring off all the other bidders in the room, and I turned to my right, waiting for my new acquaintance’s response.

He looked at me, smiled, and said he wasn’t going to bid against me and that it was my tree.

I was suddenly very moved. I knew that if anyone else in the room had made that bid, he would have bid against them and he probably wouldn’t have stopped until he won. I put my hand on his back, urging him to place a bid, but he would not be swayed.

The auctioneer counted down the bidding—“Going once. Going twice…”—and the deal was closed. It was mine—for the bare minimum price. My companion was genuinely happy for me. For him, the fact that I’d gotten the tree was all he needed to be pleased with the outcome.

I paid for my prize and, before leaving, wrote down my name on a corner of my bidding card, tore it off and handed it to him, so he could look me up online and we could stay in touch. He handed me his business card, and I saw right away that, given his profession and employer, he could have outbid me a dozen times over in the blink of an eye.

The whole experience moved me very deeply. It is not in my nature to be saccharine, so I shall leave it at that.


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