I love the holidays. I love the snow, the music, the trees, the lights, and the cathartic nature of it all. Like any quality play, the Christmas season starts with a sense of foreboding, the tiny little flurry of activity which makes up Halloween. The trees glow in their hues of red, orange, and brown. Tides of change float in the air. Then comes Thanksgiving, which is nothing more than an exhibition game for the year’s festivities.
But the true Christmas holiday season starts the following morning on Black Friday. Love it or hate it, the exhilaration or sheer dumbfoundedness of that morning sets the stage for the largest economic period of the year for any country’s GDP. On top of pure shopping bliss (yes, that was satire), we come away from Thanksgiving with an ever-populated agenda. Holiday parties for work, scheduling gift exchanges with friends, meeting for a holiday drink… all of these things begin to spring up and before you know it you’ve missed the entire season trying so hard to experience it. A friend once said to me about dating, “You’re like a little boy at a pond trying to catch a frog. You chase them all around trying to swoop one up in your net and get nowhere. But if you just sat on the ground and enjoyed the moment one would jump right into your lap.” He was both right and wrong with that statement, but that’s for a different post.
That same comparison is apt for the holidays too. Every year I try to find one weekend where I do nothing and just relax; just allow myself to feel the season around me in whatever way strikes my fancy – and I’m seldom successful. It could be a Christmas show at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, a trip to Callaway Gardens to see the lights, or even just a night making homemade hot apple cider and cooking a delectable tray of coronary delights.
Perhaps the reason I love the Christmas season so much is I have a big heart. Many people have told me my capacity for compassion sometimes holds no bounds – almost to a fault. Just before Christmas, when I was younger, maybe 10 or 11 years old, my mom took my brother and I to an indoor soccer game downtown at the Omni. As we were leaving the stadium sitting snug and warm in our car, coats, gloves, and hats strewn amongst us like toys discarded by an impatient 3 year old, I looked out the window and saw a group of people standing around a rust-beaten metal barrel containing a barely burning fire. I don’t remember exactly what I asked my mom, but she replied, “… because those people don’t have any homes”. Later that night, long after we had been put to bed, my mom came to check my brother and I before she went to bed. As she poked her head into the room, she caught a gentle whimper that had escaped my lips. I remember her walking closer and sitting on the edge of the bed and she said to me, “Daniel… what’s wrong honey?” I looked at her, my pillow and cheeks a tear splattered mess, and quite simply said, “I’m crying for those people who don’t have homes.”
As I’m sitting here, warm and cozy under a six inch thick down comforter on a twin bed in my 10×10 cell of a room in 1 degree Fahrenheit Oslo, Norway, I’m reminded of yet another Christmas memory. When high school ended most of my friends went their separate ways. One friend in particular, my only real female friend in high school, had gone into the Navy. There she was stationed in Washington D.C. as part of the honor guard at Arlington. She and I would chat occasionally, every few weeks or so, and during one of those chats she mentioned how disappointed she was that she couldn’t come home for Christmas and this was the first Christmas she wouldn’t be home with her family. As the holidays continued to wind their way into the cathartic culmination of Christmas my friend grew more and more frustrated she was not going to be able to come home; she just did not have money for a plane ticket and her parents didn’t have it either.
You can guess where this is going…
Then one morning, about four or five days before Christmas, I talked to my dad and asked if he had any frequent flyer miles I could maybe use for a ticket. He asked where I wanted to go, and I explained I really didn’t want to go anywhere, but really would like to get Kristin home to be with her family. My dad said he would look into it and that was that.
About a day or so later, my dad said he had enough points for a ticket but that due to the short time we had to get the ticket it would be a $125 fee for the last minute booking. So I said no problem, I think Kristin can make that work and promised I’d get him the $125 when she got here. So I called her and told her my dad had a free ticket that I could use to get her here if she was really serious about coming home. She was so excited I was afraid she’d pee herself. I’m still very glad to this day she didn’t.
So the next day, now only two days before Christmas, I was in the car with my dad en-route to the Fed Ex store to get the frequent flyer ticket in my hands sent to Kristin in a priority overnight envelope. Note – for someone never in the service, much to my regret, understanding the military postal nomenclature is a challenge.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, shortly after 9am, the Fed Ex package arrived and off Kristin went to the airport – her flight was literally that afternoon. A few short hours later I was at the C concourse in Hartsfield Airport laughing softly to myself as a smiling, tall, crazy blonde girl waved her arms erratically as she rushed through the airport terminal to hug me (this was back when you could go right to the gate to meet your party; things are much different now). As she came toward me I can’t describe to you how happy she was in that moment; in a pang of retrospective selfishness I have to say I was proud of myself for orchestrating and leading this ‘miracle’ to success.
After picking her up at the airport I took her over to her parents house and parked a little way down the street; her arrival was supposed to be a surprise. I helped her get the luggage out of the car, wished her a Merry Christmas, and then watched as she walked through the yard and knocked on the front door. When her mom opened it she just stood there in disbelief. Here was her daughter, completely unexpected; it was as if a ‘miracle’ had been granted or teleportation invented. It disheartens me slightly to acknowledge teleportation is not yet a reality. Mother and daughter hugged, and cried, and as I pulled away I saw them holding each other tightly.
That is one of my favorite Christmas memories and I will always carry it with me no matter what happens in my life. That is what the season is supposed to be about. It’s hard to remember sometimes. We get caught up in our own world of parties, shopping, expectations… we lose meaning in the season. One thing you might be asking yourself if you were paying attention… that $125 thing… I told her it was free, I told my dad the money was from her. In reality I paid it, but didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. What I wanted was my friend home with her family without any sense of obligation to myself other than a hug and a thank you.
Along the same lines of a heart warming Christmas story, this past week a friend sent me one of those chain stories that makes you all teary-eyed go “awww…” at the end. In this particular story a man has cancer, so he puts a white envelope on the tree branches with a note listing the ways he has donated to cancer victims instead of buying gifts to other people. After this man dies from cancer his wife and daughters continue on the tradition. You may have seen this story already; it’s been covered numerous times in both print and online media. In fact, my brother and I did this several years ago. We each donated $100 to a charity of our own choosing instead of getting each other presents – I’ll do the same this year for him.
Shortly after that email, I got an email from my mom which had a link to a blog from someone she knew. She said I should read the post about what this guy was doing for his back pain. I read it, was nothing I hadn’t seen before, but I continued to read the rest of it too…and my misting eyes turned into clear, salty droplets of compassion. It could be the steroids have caught up with me emotionally, I’ve been on a high dose of Prednisolone these past few weeks due to the pain in my back, or I could just be a giant vagina and I’m having my man period; we may never know, but as my psychology professor once said “if the question is either / or, the answer is usually both”.
As I read this man’s blog I couldn’t help but be consumed by a predisposition for compassion fueled by the outright optimism demonstrated by the words of this man and his wife. In summary – he and his wife had been battling a multiple myeloma (cancer) for many years; their architecture company was on the dregs of bankruptcy, but managing to scrape by while the man slowly recovered from such a devastating disease. The particular post I read mentioned all the people who had come to his aid to help make ends meet; when you’re spending $11,000 a month for medication life becomes … difficult.
In appreciation of all the things different organizations had done for him, the man and his wife are taking part in a charity event walking a 15K for the Leukimia Foundation. He did not think he’d be able to do the whole thing, but was making valiant effort training for it. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of connection with this man I’d never met; I can tell you all about getting ready for something like he’s doing and being much less than optimal medically. As with any charity event, Bob had pledged to raise a little bit of money so … yep… I went and got my wallet off the dresser and donated on the spot. And I think I got frostbite in the process – that floor was COLD!
Nobody asked me to donate; hell, I talked to my mom later that night on our first “you mean we can talk over the internet on the computer?!!?!?” chat and I didn’t even mention it. The amount I donated is immaterial; I was moved and so I said why not? I also made the donation anonymously; he’s never met me, never will, so why bother with a name? And besides, I didn’t do this to toot my own horn.
As I got done talking to my mom a thought occurred to me; maybe I could make a Christmas memory for this guy? Something that he thinks back on for the rest of his life and just is amazed at what coincidence and fate has wrought.
So with all that said, here’s what I’m asking everyone to do:
1) Go to the following address, http://pages.teamintraining.org/ga/crttybrf13/marshrats, and then click to donate to the team.
2) Fill out all the fields they ask for, but then submit anonymously. In the message / description box just put in something that mentions the white envelope and a heart felt message from yourself. I don’t care how much you donate, it could be just $1 dollar, but I want to fill this guy’s inbox with supportive messages … from people he’s never met. To be clear, I’m not asking for donations of money, I’m asking for an anonymous donation to his spirit.
Imagine how good you’ll feel in a year from now, or five years from now, when you can think back about how cool it was to be part of something really neat that came out of nowhere to support someone you will never meet. And the best part, is you’re doing it for yourself too. See, what I figured out as I was writing this, is Christmas is about giving. The memories that you will keep with you forever are the ones where you brightened someone’s Christmas by giving, not by getting. Even when the thing you got was a jillion pieces of Lego, it is always better to give.
So with that said, I really hope you’ll take a couple minutes to donate a dollar or five to Bob. Let him be your cup of coffee today, let him be your white envelope this year. Everyone loves a white Christmas… make Bob’s white – not with snow, but with envelopes.
Merry Christmas… and to all a good night.
[ Editor's note: It wasn't until after I wrote this and showed it to my mom last night that she informed me of something profound. This guy, Bob Cain, before he got into architecture, used to be a race car driver and is a huge fan of the Lotus marquee. He never had the chance to own one, but championing this cause for him brings me untold joy as a fellow car and Lotus enthusiast. It's a small world... ]