Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On a Serious, Christmas Time Note...

Forgive me for stepping all over the lighthearted fun... but this has been on my mind the last few days and needs to be posted. Back to more Memoirs of Daniel, Frank Owen and Fae City next week. Until then, hear me ramble like a champ:

People ask me what I want for Christmas and my answer year after year is always "world peace." Once they laugh and ask me seriously, I tell them again, world peace. If they still aren't satisfied and truly want to get something for me, I'll ask them to donate to a charity of their choice (with the secret hope that they'll choose something like Reading is Fundamental or their local Goodfellows). I truly don't need anything, and there are so many people out there who need simple things that we all take for granted. Food, water, a warm bed, books to read, an education, hope for better days ahead. How can I possibly ask for that new dishwasher or a box set of I Love Lucy DVDs when I have so much already, things that other people die without?

Christmas is a time for giving, a time for family and tradition. A time to be warm when the world is so cold. It's not to receive gifts and fight each other over the last remaining Xbox in the store. Sure, I love Black Friday and Christmas deals as much as the next person, but at the end of the day, my thoughts linger on the people who would enjoy them too if it was food on sale, a bit of love and comfort.

A lot of people say that the holidays bring out the worst in the human race. They say they become selfish and greedy. They say that people are fools that follow the ads like sheep, and they're slaves to the media who only want to have a commercial Christmas because it means nothing else. The people who mock the holiday spirit are usually those who can't remember a good Christmas or those who are determined to be miserable throughout life. (Usually because it earns them the most attention from their - quite sick of their annoying whining - friends). I disagree with those people.

Whether you're Christian or Atheist or Mahayana Buddhist, there's one thing that is true for everyone this time of year: people need help. Whether it's a smile or a shoulder to cry on, a warm body to lean against, a bit of canned food or some dollar store gifts to shove under a tree, perhaps a ride to a job interview or a babysitter or a friend or a family member or money or AA. People need help. I know many charitable people who are willing to bend over backwards and lend a hand to a stranger for nothing more than the satisfaction of knowing that they've made someone's life a smidge easier.

A couple of years ago, I volunteered at Our Lady of the Woods on a night that they were hosting a charitable event for the homeless. A bus filled with people who were homeless came into the convention center located at the side of the church and they were fed, given gifts (clothes, shaving kits, etc), and generally just shown a good time. We were told to mingle with these people because most of all, they craved normal interaction. I'll never forget some of the stories that I heard from these people.

A woman had gone through a life-destroying addiction. She was an alcoholic, a heroin addict and lost her job, house and family because of it. Yeah, I guess she didn't do anything to help her situation, but she was doing it then. She told me that she tried to take her own life after losing everything, but that she heard God's voice in her ear telling her to be strong. Now, I'm not the most religious of people - though that's a conversation for a different day - but her story gave me goosebumps. Somehow, through all the hardships that she'd put herself through, this woman found faith. She said that the only thing helping her persevere were the people at these events, talking to her, helping her, etc. She'd been clean for a year. She had a job interview the next day. She said that with any luck, that would be her last day with a shelter and that she was grateful for the compassion of people.

There was another man there with three little children who was telling me about his story as the children danced to the music the hall was playing. He was a hardworking man who made enough for his family to survive. They had a nice house, food to serve, cars and jobs. His mother fell ill, however, and the cost of her care was too expensive. So, instead of making his home-owners insurance payment, he used the money to pay for her hospital care. The day after his home owner's insurance policy was revoked, his house caught on fire and burned to the ground. The man began to cry when he got to the end of his story...and it was so inspiring to see his gratitude for everything that the church was doing to provide them with a Christmas meal, a shower and a warm place to stay for a night.

Being involved in something like that can really change your perspective on things. Do I want a new dishwasher? Do I want all of the episodes of I Love Lucy right where I can reach them? Do I want all that material stuff that makes life so much more fun? Oh, god yes I do. A lot. I love having stuff. I love my stupidly large DVD collection and I love having a computer and a laptop and an iPod, etc....

But. When I'm witnessing personal triumphs and people benefiting from the inherent generosity of others, I can't help but want to help more. It's not about what I want or what accessories my life needs. It's about giving hope and/or faith to someone who knows how to use it to better their lives.

What do I want for Christmas, you ask?


Final answer: world peace.