Friday, December 28, 2007

A Season For Giving

The Christmas season is at its very essence just that. If you are a Christian, then you should believe that God the father gave his only to son to mankind on the first Christmas Day. When Christ was born, the story goes that he was visited by three Maggi who presented him with him with three gifts of gold, silver and myrrh. He was also in essence gifted with a birthing place albeit only a stable, and he was granted praise from shepherds and angels alike. Christianity's birth story notwithstanding, the season had long been one of giving in other faiths (those we call Pagan faiths today). I wonder if this was because the harvest was long over, the reality of winter had just set in, and the hope that longer days bring with them had just begun to spread being that the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere is the start of lengthening daylight hours. Whatever the reasons, this season has always been one of spirituality and giving throughout the history of the northern and western hemispheres.

Because it is a season of giving, this is also a season of receiving. In general it seems most people are more likely to tell you what they received as presents rather than to tell you what they gifted to others. I suppose there could be many reasons for this, the "me" factor (basically someones ego) being among the strongest of reasons to do so. It just seems to sit better with most people to tell you they got this or that, and then to show it off, than it is for them to say they gave this or that. Besides ego, I guess one of the reasons for doing so is rather practical - they can show off the item they received but may not necessarily be able to do so for something they gave as a gift to someone else. Another reason for some to say what they received instead of what they gave is that some maybe embarrassed by what they gave, possibly thinking it too little.

Whatever the reason that it is more likely for someone to say what they received instead of what they gave, I have decided this year to tell people mostly about what I gave to others instead of what others gave to me. In the end you will see this is no noble gesture on my part to make myself feel better, but rather just a sort of random act of kindness; yet, you will also see there is a reason for my telling it this way, something you will have to read on to discover.
This year I gave presents to: my wife, my daughter, my son, my mother, my brother and his wife, my sister and her husband, my nephew (my sister's son), a few friends at work, to some soldiers I have never met (with the help of some of you), and to a bum sitting on the sidewalk and begging. (I guess some would call him an indigent or a homeless man, I still call a spade a spade and he was a bum for whatever reason foul or fair.) For my wife (and myself) I arranged a lovely afternoon out in Manhattan to see a Broadway show, and to have dinner together. Somehow my daughter Celina also weaseled her way into coming along (and we enjoyed her company). For my wife I also picked out a really nice, and an extremely soft cashmere scarf and a gift card from Lord & Taylor's (certainly not where I usually shop with their prices). She also got a nice musical Christmas card. My daughter got various gifts as did my son. Same for the rest of the family members mentioned. The folks at work got a bottle of one type or another of liquid libations with which to help bring in the warmth of the season. My family and my friends were all thankful indeed.

As most of my readers are probably aware, I spearheaded an effort to raise donations for a Soldiers' Christmas/Holiday Package. In all it wound up becoming four packages instead of just one, thanks in great part to all of you who were generous enough to donate. The soldiers wound up receiving a good number of things they could use, things they could enjoy, and things and wishes that would make their holiday season so much the nicer while on foreign soil in a hostile land. They sent heartfelt thanks to me and to those of you who helped out.

Finally, I guess it was yesterday, or maybe the day before, I walked passed a bum sitting on the sidewalk in midtown Manhattan. He was sitting begging for change. He did not look particularly filthy, was certainly not gaunt and probably had been eating pretty regularly, but was dressed like a vagabond who had traveled down a pretty difficult stretch of road. As I sometimes do, for no particular reason, and probably not even related to the season, I stopped after having passed him bye. I reached into my pocket, took out what cash I had, grabbed all of the singles. Then I turned around and walked back to him; and I put the bills into his hand instead of into his cup. His eyes open wide so much so that the crows feet around the corners of his middle aged eyes almost seemed as if they would burst asunder, and a smile beamed upon his face that lit up an otherwise overcast day and warmed my soul considerably on that chilly day. Then he said to me in one of the most heart wrenching, almost sobbing choked up voices I have ever heard: "Thank you, thank you very much sir, Merry Christmas". I told him he was welcome and turned to go on my way. After a few steps I glanced back and he was gone. Maybe he was off to grab a bite to eat, maybe to buy a bottle or a fix to help drive away the chills, or maybe - just maybe - to share his new found bit of good fortune with his family or friends. I had not asked, and I guess I will never know; but I do know I received one heck of a gift from him, I felt great after that thank you, and that look on his face.

Now don't get me wrong. I am no philanthropist when it comes to street bums. I loathe the fact that people get themselves into that predicament, and then choose to stay in it. I do not condone promoting such behavior, and think they need to be rounded up, cleaned up, and given jobs like street sweeping, painting bridges, filling potholes, and other manual labor suited for dunderheads (no I care not that one may be a goofball, one may be insane, and another a rocket scientist - they all should have to work instead of being allowed to piss, shit, sleep, beg, eat, and generally live on the streets). Still though, one can allow ones self to have compassion for his fellow man now and then, even one whom you think should be making better of his life, so once or three times a year I wind up giving something to a guy in similar conditions. This was just the best, heartfelt thank you I have ever received from any of them over the years.

So why am I telling you this, why am I telling you about what I gave rather than what I received. I guess because when it comes down to it, giving can be better than receiving. I did not give with the intention of receiving thanks. I gave to people because I loved them, or was a friend of theirs, or because I owed them a great debt of gratitude like the soldiers, or because of some momentary feeling of compassion I had for them at the moment - like the guy in the street. There is also another reason though that I am telling you about what I gave, and it is not based upon the old cliche I just gave about giving being better than receiving. That other thing is that when you give to another from your heart, even if only a little, you also receive something from, or give something to yourself. That thing is a feeling of goodness, of having been nice, of some sort of satisfaction that you have done right, of knowing that you have made someones day a bit nicer. When they don't recognize it, it may sting a bit, but deep down inside you still know you did well. When they recognize it as all the others above did this year, well all I can say is 'wow, is it ever a nice feeling'. It sort of makes me want to do something similar again. Wouldn't it be divine if we were all a little nicer one another without fussing as much over ourselves - the world would be a better place. The only way to get that done is to start it yourself, even if only a little bit at a time, and that is something that really hit home when that guy on the street gave me that smile and thank you. Of course I would rather see that guy working than begging, but every now and then I guess it is just okay to fell for someone like him too. Who knows, maybe he used the money to find a job. (Don't laugh at that, while I know it is not probably it can happen. I once gave a guy I knew $5.00 or so when he asked me to help him with money to find a job. I wanted to kick his ass when he immediately bought a beer, and a pack of cigarettes, but that was over 30 years ago and he still had enough for a newspaper, and enough for carfare for the subway the next day. That next day he found a job and had it till the day he died several years later.)

I guess what I am getting at most of al is that you ought to try it sometime if you have not already, the random act of kindness thing. It really can work miracles.

Season's greetings to all.

All the best,
Glenn B