I want to ask you to do something for yourself, but I need to tell you a couple of stories first.
This past week (just before Halloween), the Halloween stuff went on sale and the Christmas stuff came out at my local Kroger’s. I was telling this to my mother and it prompted a conversation about her best Christmas. That very same Christmas was my worst Christmas, but as a dad myself now, I can understand the parent side and the child side of that one Christmas, but I am getting ahead of myself.
When I was ten years old (gee has it really been 40 years ago … I can’t be that old) we were not going to have a Christmas. It was not that my brothers and I had been bad. My youngest brother had just been born on the 10th of December; we were already poor, and in a time when most people had to pay their own medical bills for the birth of a baby, the birth of Jason used all of the money my parents had. So, this year there would be no Christmas. With two older sons (I was ten and Jeff was eight) in the house to feed as well, there would be no presents for Christmas … for anyone.
Then a local minister, that knew our family’s situation, stepped forward. He mobilized his church and they came through with Christmas for us. He got in a lot of trouble for this when his congregation found out we were not members of their church, he could have lost his job. But, he stood his ground, it was the right thing to do, it was the Christian thing to do, and he was glad he did it. I guess you could say his attitude was consequences be damned, he was helping this family (though the word damn is not in his vocabulary). As an adult I will always be grateful to him for risking his job (and when you place your job at risk you are also placing your family at risk) to help us. My mother will always be grateful because her boys had presents to open on Christmas morning.
I understand that parental pain. We tell our children that Santa has a list of good boys and girls, and that he checks it twice. Then, Christmas morning your child runs to the tree and there is nothing under the tree. Even if they can hold back the tears, even if they do not ask the questions out loud, the questions are still there … and unanswered. “What did I do wrong? Why didn’t Santa bring me anything? With all the boys and girls in the whole world, did he just forget me?” Then comes the return to school and all the pain comes back again. All the other kids talking about what they got for Christmas and asking you what you got for Christmas. What did you get for Christmas? Nothing. The boy who got only socks does not feel so bad now.
My brother and I did not have to go through this. That church provided all the gifts we opened. My younger brother had a great Christmas and played with his toys non-stop all day. But like I said this was my worst Christmas ever, maybe I noticed this one small little thing because I was older than Jeff. Maybe, I noticed this one little difference because, as my grandfather used to say behind my back, I had an “old head on my shoulders.”
Whatever the reason I did notice the difference, the difference I noticed was that not one of my gifts had my name on the package. Every one of my gifts was addressed to “boy age 10.” I explained the parent side of this Christmas. Now I want to explain the ten-year-old-little-boy side of this Christmas.
I had no presents for Christmas. Sure I had stuff to open, but those presents were not for me, those presents were not “To: Joe From: Santa”, or from anyone else for that matter. I am Joe, I am not “boy age ten”. I went to school with a classroom full of “boy age ten.” If those gifts had been for me, they would have been addressed “To: Joe.” I knew I had not been a bad boy that year. Not only had I tried to be good, but as soon as my baby brother, Jason, came home I started feeding, changing, and taking care of him as much as possible. I watched him, bathed him, and in the future there would be many times when I was both mother and father to him. That cost me, to this day Jason and I have never had that brother-to-brother relationship (but that is another story, one that I am not going to share). My point is that I knew I was not bad, but I also knew that no one went to the store to buy a present for Joe C Combs 2nd. Someone went to the store to buy Christmas gifts for a generic boy who was “age ten.” That hurt, that hurt just like that kid I described in the fifth paragraph above. I did not say anything … to anyone. My mother did not know how I felt until this past week when we talked about that Christmas 40 years ago.
I think part of the reason I stayed quiet for so long was because I understood the intention. The intention was caring, thoughtful, and loving; I knew there were other kids that did not have anything to open, or if they did have something to open, it was only a few packages of things they needed, like socks. I was ten, but I understood these things, and I did not want to hurt anyone else’s feelings.
Why is it that two little boys are abused as children and one becomes a killer while the other one becomes a pediatrician that spends his weekends giving free medical care at the orphanage? In life, it is not what happens to you, but how you react to what happens to you. The one little boy passes the abuse to the next generation and the other little boy becomes a doctor and breaks that chain. That second little boy says “NO! No more will this abuse be passed to the next generation.” Not everything is as large as becoming a doctor or a killer, most things are small. Some things are so small that other people do not notice them, but you do. You know that small little thing (that no one else notices) that happened to you and to your parents before you. You know that you do not like that small thing, it may even hurt your feelings. Do you see the incredible power you have. You. You and no one else has the power to pass that on to another person or to say to yourself, “No. No more will this be passed to another person.” You have that power, no one else has that power, not your parents, your brother or sister, not the President of the United States. You and you alone have that power.
What I did was to spend the next forty years giving something to someone every Christmas, someone who was in need. I now include my daughter. But, every time I give something it has that person’s name attached to it. I give anonymously, and sometimes I never know who the receiver is (like the angel trees in stores), but I always make sure the receiver’s name is on that package; always, every time, no exceptions.
One year I went to someplace collecting things and had this conversation (this is word for word, or as much of it as I can remember 22 years later).
“Excuse me. I bought this gift, but I want to make sure the child’s name will go on the gift.”
“Sir, we are not allowed to tell you who the gifts go to.”
“I do not care who gets the gift, I just want to make sure the gift will have the child’s name on it when they get it.”
“I’m not allowed to tell you who will get the gift.”
“I do not want to know the child’s name, I just want to know the gift will have the child’s name on it before they get it.”
“We do not give out the names of the people receiving the gifts.”
“Good. I do not want to know the name. But, if you cannot tell me a name will go on this before a kid gets it then I will keep it.”
She still would not guarantee me that the kid’s name would go on the gift. So, I went to Wal-Mart. The angel tree at Wal-Mart had angel cutouts with a child’s first name, age, sizes, and a toy that they wanted too. I walked up to the customer service desk and had this conversation.
“I have a gift I want to give for your angel tree, but I did not buy it here. Is that ok?”
“Oh yes sir. Thank you sir. You can leave it here if you want too, and I will take care of it for you.”
“I just didn’t know if you would accept something from another store for your angel tree.”
“We would like you to buy it here, but you do not have too. It’s about the kids.”
Yes Wal-Mart, it is about the kids, you are right. So, I left my gift at a Wal-Mart where I knew the child’s name would go on the gift before it was delivered. I know Wal-Mart gets bad publicity sometimes, but for everything I don’t like about them, I will never say anything bad about them because of two employees (this woman is the first and I will tell you another time about the second).
So, what is it I want you to do for yourself this Christmas? I want you to give something to someone anonymously. I want you to go to a church, fire station (remember Toys For Tots, the fire departments do this every year with the Marine Corps Reserve), or one of those angel trees and give something, something for a child. I know many of you are having a hard time now, and do not know what you will do for Christmas for your family. Just donate a pair of mittens to keep a child’s fingers warm. You have seven weeks. Take a coffee cup, set it on your counter and put some of your change in it every day, all your quarters, or all your dimes if you cannot spare all of your change. At the end of those seven weeks you will be able to buy those mittens, who knows maybe you will be able to buy two pairs and help two children.
I do not enjoy competition. I have awards in several fields (art, music, writing, military service & etc), people do not take you seriously if you do not have awards. My philosophy has always been that no matter how good you are someone is better, no matter how bad you are someone is worse. That applies to finances too. No matter how good you have it, someone is better off. No matter how bad your money is now, someone is worse off.
Yes, I know some of you are struggling right now, but there are those in worse shape than yourself and your family. One pair of mittens may not seem like much, but it may be the whole world to a child this Christmas. Maybe one pair of mittens is a big deal for you this year. Do you remember the Christmas story about the woman who cut her hair and sold it to buy a watch chain for her husband, while her husband was selling his pocket watch to buy silver hair combs for his wife for Christmas? It was everything they had. It was a Christmas when a husband and wife gave not only their most prized possession, but their only possession for each other.
Giving to someone else does something for you and to you. The harder it is for you to give, the more you receive when you give. I can’t explain it, but it is so, I know from experience.
So, this year I want you to give something to a stranger for Christmas, THAT is what I want to ask you to do for yourself.
Thank you, and may you have a good holiday season, and may you always feel the love that only giving creates.
English: Santa Claus with a little girl Esperanto: Patro Kristnasko kaj malgranda knabino Suomi: Joulupukki ja pieni tyttö (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas, (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)