Sunday, December 20, 2009

My Favorite Christmas

Another episode of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Dane Alllred"

One particular Christmas holds some of my best memories, not because of the presents I received, but because of the presents I gave. I wanted to give something to those who were needy in our neighborhood, so I collected some money from those in the area and ended up with a little over a hundred dollars.

When I visited with the single mother who seemed to need the most help, I asked what she would like us to use the money to buy. I’m not sure why I didn’t just give her the money, but I guess I wanted to do some of the shopping to make sure the donations went for presents instead of rent.

She humbly requested a turkey or a ham. She told me her son wanted moon boots. I also noticed they didn’t have a tree. I don’t remember much else, except for how I felt when a couple of us from the neighborhood delivered the stuff.

I used my own money to buy a Christmas tree, and the hundred dollars went a lot further than I imagined it would. I know I spent a lot more than this on my own family that same year, but I can’t remember anything our family received.

If she was embarrassed by our assumption she needed help, she never showed it. She was not too proud to refuse our offer, and I wondered how magnanimous I would feel delivering these few items later.

What a different feeling I had when we finally came back. I have never felt so humbled, so grateful for all I had, and so thankful I had an opportunity to help someone else.

This was a woman who had recently divorced and was living with her children in a basement apartment. It was cramped and dark, but you could tell this was a much better situation than the family had been in before. Apparently, the husband had been abusive, and it took all the courage this good woman could muster to leave him. They were a humble, happy and very poor family.

As I brought in a bag of flour and sugar, which she hadn’t asked us to bring, she began to cry. We gave her a turkey and the packages already wrapped for the children. It was such a small thing to do. Most of the neighbors had given five or ten dollars, and it wasn’t a great sacrifice for them.

But to see the happiness these few things brought to this family was incredibly satisfying. It was almost nothing, especially when contrasted with the bounty the rest of us would receive. It made me wish I had collected two hundred, or three hundred dollars.

But you could tell it wouldn’t have mattered if it had only been ten dollars. We had moved from our petty daily concerns, thought about someone outside of ourselves, and shared a little of the bounty we had been blessed with.

You would have thought we had delivered gold bars. We were thanked repeatedly, and embarrassed by the show of appreciation, had beat a hasty retreat. It was an incredible, satisfying, momentous occasion in my life. I had spent was a few dollars and some of my time collecting from others, done a little shopping, and delivered our paltry offerings.

But to be humbled by this act of service was the greatest gift I have ever received. I was able to get outside myself for a brief moment, and consider that someone else might benefit from a few simple acts of kindness.

English author and artist John Ruskin said this about humility:

"The first test of a truly great man is his humility. I do not mean, by humility, doubt of his own power. … [But really] great men … have a curious … feeling that … greatness is not in them, but through them. … And they see something Divine … in every other man …, and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful."

It wasn’t me, the neighbors, the donations, the flour, the sugar, the turkey or the Christmas tree. It was the ability I was given, for just a moment, to see the divine in someone else, that other person who is just as important as I am, but who is receiving not from me, but through me.

There are few times in life when we are able to get outside ourselves and stop considering our petty problems and complaints. It is in these moments we are most alive and vibrant. They don’t happen everyday, but they do happen often enough to remind us there are others on this planet. These moments occur when we stop the introspection, and begin to notice all of the wonderful people who are on this journey with us.

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