Monday, December 16, 2013

The holiday spirit

Christmas is fast approaching (and it really is, even though retailers have been trying to accelerate the process for some time) and I was in kind of a holiday mood as I write this afternoon.  So ho, ho, ho, indeed!

No, actually, I want to mention some holiday acts of decency and kindness that I have been a party to over the years around the holidays.

First such instance was when I was a kid, probably eight or nine years old.  I liked accompanying my mother to the grocery, for some reason (and wound up working in a grocery store for almost six years through high school and college).  One such occasion we were making the rounds through the aisles of the long-gone A&P in Paris, Kentucky, my hometown, and I recall finding an envelope on the floor.  I showed my discovery to my mom, who looked inside the envelope and said that I should go to the office at the front of the store and turn it in.  I was pretty sure there was money inside, but had no concept of how much paper money was a lot (most of my experience with money at that point was in coins, of course).  The person up front took the envelope and said they would try to find out who lost it.

Not long after that, a middle-aged African-American woman came up to my mom and me, asking if I was the little boy who found her money.  Turned out that she had cashed her weekly paycheck and a small Christmas bonus, so that was all of the money that she had in the whole world for groceries, other bills and for Christmas gifts for her family.  She was crying, thanking me and Mom over and over again.  And she hugged me and gave me a $5 bill and kind of ran off.  I will never, ever forget that moment.

Fast forward about twenty two years.  I'm now married, stepfather of two, and my wife and I had volunteered to purchase and deliver Christmas presents to a needy family through our church.  We went to deliver their gifts to their home, which was a dilapidated mobile home.  The entire family was not at home when we visited, but those who were appeared to be in dire need of as much assistance as we (or anyone) could provide.  That shook me up pretty thoroughly.

Not long thereafter, I remember driving to work one morning near Christmas.  At that time I was feeling pretty trapped in my job of that time, with no opportunities for advancement and one or two people whom I would rather not have been involved with as my coworkers.  I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.  Then the Band Aid song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" began playing on the radio, and I began to cry.  Weep.  Hard.  I knew that song, which had been released as a way to raise funds to fight famine in African countries, but had obviously not stopped my self-absorption long enough to really take in the words and their meaning.  I was VERY ashamed of myself, and I have to confess that while I enjoyed Christmas a lot up to that point, it took on added meaning for me thereafter, as I was much better able to recognize the life of privilege that I and so many of us lead.

My last anecdote occurred just two or three years ago.  My wife and I were preparing to have family over for dinner and presents just before Christmas, and I had made a quick run to the grocery to buy what was on our current shopping list.  I breezed through the store, picked up the requisite items and a few more, and arrived at the checkout to empty my cart.  It was only then I realized that I had run out of the house without my wallet, and, therefore, without any money.  So I sheepishly admitted my error to the checkout clerk, apologizing that I'd have to come back after making a quick trip home.  The man immediately ahead of me in line heard me, said something reassuring me that I shouldn't be embarrassed, and then INSISTED ON PAYING FOR MY ENTIRE GROCERY ORDER.  I protested, begging him for a business card or some other evidence of where and how to reimburse him, but he just smiled, and said, "You seem like a nice guy, and I have to say, life has been very generous to me, so it would be my pleasure.  Merry Christmas!"

Wow.

So I went home, still a bit numb from this experience, and decided to donate the exact amount of our groceries to a local charity.  Paying it forward, I guess.  We still contribute to that charity a few times a year to this day.

So, when I say "have yourself a merry little Christmas," you know that I mean it.

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