Category — rhythm and blues
Christmas, for me, has always been about the best of human nature. As a Catholic child, it meant loving others in Christ’s likeness; forgiving those who trespass against us, sharing my blessings with those in need, and treating my neighbor as myself. Oh, and staying on Santa’s “nice” list, of course, but in my house, that meant having a Christian attitude anyway.
Certainly, my mother ensured that the Christmas tree burst forth with mountains of gifts on Christmas morning, all painstakingly wrapped in pretty paper and mile upon mile of pigtailed ribbon. My childhood Christmases were nothing short of magical, even after I recognized her familiar script on Santa’s gift tags.
The weeks leading up to Christmas morning, however, were entirely about love, kindness and charity. We baked endless cookies, to be delivered to neighbors and damn near every staff member at school by yours truly, a personal thank you from Mama to any soul that ever looked out for her kids.
We bought the softest, warmest gloves and hats for my elementary school’s “mitten tree”, and she made sure that I understood the heartbreaking connection between its purpose and my classmates who were carefully sent to the library for recess: their parents couldn’t even afford proper clothing for the Michigan winters. I hoped that my contribution to that tree would have them sledding and slinging snowballs with the rest of us in the new year.
It wasn’t until high school, when I got involved with Junior Civitan that I really understood the desperation and sorrow behind the mitten tree, the canned food drives, and the wish lists from social services. I met an angry single mother that hissed insults at us as we unloaded a full Thanksgiving dinner onto her kitchen counters, and an elderly couple living in a tin shack with dirt-packed floors. It frightened and saddened me indeliably to truly understand the depth and breadth of my blessings.
A few short years later, I was finishing some last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve when the oil light lit up my dashboard. Panicked, I pulled into an oil change place and prayed that someone would at least be around to sell me a few quarts of oil for my old, dying car. There was a guy in the garage, he’d come by to pick something up he’d forgotten the night before. He filled my engine and put a case of oil in my trunk, with strict instructions to add a quart every time I put gas in it, and refused to take even the money for the two or so quarts I could afford.
Just a few years ago, a coworker was distraught over a mistake in her checkbook register that meant she couldn’t afford the big gift she planned on for her son. B and I hardly even had to exchange looks; we both put a few twenties in an envelope and slipped it into her inbox, unnoticed. We were eventually discovered, unwittingly, and I found myself staring into a pair of big brown eyes full of guilt, shame and disbelief. She wanted to know why we were compelled to fix her “stupid” mistake, and she wanted to “make it right” when she could.
“Because we’ve all made that mistake in our checkbooks. Because your kid deserves that wide-eyed gasp I always had. Because I have it to spare. Because that’s how my Mama raised me. Because it made my heart light and happy. Because I love you. Because this is what Christmas is really about, and don’t you dare give a penny of it back.”
We wept in each other’s arms.
She offered it to me later, driven by the hopelessness behind my eyes, and probably the knowledge that B was helping me sneak the space heater out of the lobby at night and out of the trunk of my car in the morning. I still refused, because forty dollars wasn’t even close to solving my problems and because I’m so damn prideful sometimes.
This year, I haven’t had an opportunity to perform a significant act of kindness, so I’ve decided to settle for sending tidings of comfort and joy to people that have made my life so much sweeter. I’d like to start with you, whoever you are. If you’re reading these words, you’ve encouraged me to keep writing, and in so doing, you’ve compelled me to live and love better. Your silent witness casts a soft, moon-lit glow on the path that leads me home. Thank you.
Merry Christmas, y’all.
December 24, 2011 3 Comments