But one Christmas morning, my brother and I pushed her to her limit. See, Santa had made a mistake that year. I had asked specifically for an Erector Set. Remember those? It was this amazing set of metal pieces that hinged and hooked and allowed for the creation of the most exciting towers and fortresses. I loved that!
Finally, my furious mother warned us that if we continued to argue, we would be forced to pack up all our shiny new presents and donate them to St Michael’s Home for Children in Hopewell, New Jersey.
Oh, sure, we thought and continued to argue.
My mother stood, hands on hips, as we packed up all our new gifts (right down to the tangerines in the toes of our stockings) and loaded them in the car. She stood by the car as we walked; gifts in hands, up the steps to the door of St Michael’s. She watched as we handed over our treasures, with forced smiles on our faces to children less fortunate than us.
When I tell this story, people see my mother as harsh. At that moment, I did too. But all these years later, with perfect rearview vision, I see the lesson my mother taught me. I see how she altered my view of Christmas and holiday madness.
On that fateful Christmas, I looked into the eyes of the kids at St. Michael’s and saw pure joy at their unexpected good fortune. I felt, maybe for the first time in my life, the exquisite pleasure that only comes with giving and being of service. Although I had lost…and lost big in my childish view, I felt somehow different. I had made someone’s day. I did not understand it, but I loved it.
My mother had taught me the true spirit of Christmas, maybe not consciously, but she taught us, with what most consider a tough punishment, how it felt to put someone else’s needs before our own selfishness.
It was a lesson not lost on me.
At the time of year when everyone is talking a good story about helping others, peace on earth and good will, let’s put it into practice and not just talk.
From Christmas trees to Hanukkah candles to Solstice and Kwanzaa lights, this time of year is called the ‘season of light’ because it stands as a reminder that life renews itself in a great continuum of energy. The shortest day comes to a close; the next morning dawns, extending the light, just for a moment or two. Each subsequent day lengthens and brings with it new hope.
What if we put the needs of others before our own? What if we became one of those people who make the world a better place? Think about it. When someone smiles at you, for no reason, you feel happy. Your world feels…brighter. Help someone off the bus with their groceries and you made their world…and yours…a little sweeter.
Imagine that we all do just one kindness a day; one thing that improves someone’s world. No judgment. Imagine the light that would shine from neighborhood to neighborhood, throughout communities and cities, from coast to coast, all over the world.
You may be thinking this is simplistic. The problems we face are so large, so ominous…can smiling at a stranger create the kind of change we need now? We won’t know unless we try and with all that light we generate, we just may see our way to a better world…and what began on the steps of an orphanage on a snowy Christmas day so many years ago will live on and on.
Have a glorious holiday season!