Monday, Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year, found me a bit down. I was very aware of the clouds, the fog, the shortness of daylight… the shortness of life. Deaths of cops, deaths of troops, deaths of cops who are troops.
I needed a sip of kindness.
So I went to my local church, St. Mary of the Isle in Long Beach, NY to make a year-end Christmas donation. I happened to arrive as the Parish Outreach was working full Out-Reach on the culmination of its Christmas gift program.
I had worked on similar programs in different churches on Long Island years ago. It was a fantastic opportunity for me to be part of. They are such helpful and rewarding programs for many. If you get a chance to participate in one of these or any like program, go for it. You know of course, it doesn’t make a difference what brand of religion you favor, it’s about giving and receiving. Simply put, it’s about thems-that-have helping thems-that don’t-have.
As I pulled to the curb near the church, I saw in front of me cars unloading mostly toys, it seemed. The families beamed as they trudged to the doorway of the Outreach with their gifts in hand. These folks might be givers of things but they were receivers of happiness, of joy, through giving. Children helped Mom and Dad tote love. Those kids will never forget this day.
Inside the Community Center, Mary Lou, whom I asked, “Are you the boss?” smiled in answer. She looked at my check and said, “I’ll take you to see Father.”
Most givers give all year round to their local churches or other places of worship. I don’t so much, usually. I had been giving to more distant locales, mostly where poor means poor-in-protein.
Mary Lou was busy making sure the Christmas gift program all worked out as planned. Well, as best as planned as possible anyway. Oh, would that such endeavors work as planned. But they do work out.
Mary Lou was directing people to bring their gifts to the long tables that filled the great hall. The tables abutted each other at their ends in long rows and made a landscape of bright color to astonish any onlooker. I thought about taking a photo of the huge spread of gift-laden tables but thought better of even asking, not wanting to expose the identity of the givers and most certainly not the receivers. So you’ll just have to use your imaginations here, dear readers.
So, there I stood, sipping the Season. It’s a flavor that only those actually exposed to such sweetness are graced to imbibe.
The anonymous bringing was still in progress. But parishioners were arriving early to receive them. But doing so defeated anonymity. Mary Lou was explaining to the recipients at the door, “You all have a designated time to arrive and none of you should be here before noon.” It was about 11:00 a.m.
As I stood there, even more receivers came to the door. But they too were told, “You’ll have to come back after noon, at your assigned times.” One recipient had a “good reason” for not being able to come in the afternoon but was told, “Your sister can come in your place, I’m sure that can be worked out.” Mary Lou might have been born at night but it wasn’t last night!
One arriver needed a coat. Mary Lou provided one but it was too small, barely closing. She asked the woman to take that coat for now and she’d find a more suitable one for her soon. People always need clothes donated to the church. So if you receive a new one for Christmas and would like to donate your old one, bring it. Best to remember though, don’t bring summer stuff in winter nor winter in summer.
And so it went. I waited for about five minutes savoring the cup before me. “Excuse me,” a giver said as he asked to get past me with his huge boxed toy. “Absolutely,” I said and stepped aside. I was certainly in the way here.
It was clear that there was no real reason for me to meet with Father, Mary Lou was being gracious. My donation was made. I had written across the check, “for outreach”. You see I’m not an egoless giver as most of you probably are. I like to attach strings if I can, I want to steer my giving even after it’s left my hands. But Mary Lou did seem pleased at my notation. This amount wouldn’t be used to pay the church electric bill or other important basics. It would be reserved for her direct compassionate efforts. We both felt that was a very good thing.
Now, Jolly and merry, are common terms used these days as in jolly Santa, Merry Christmas etc., all very Ho-Hoable. They bring a smile. Happy too, is ubiquitous. These connote an effervescence, a lightness, a conviviality. But joy…now that is of the soul. And joy is a term more appropriate for this special intersection of human compassion and need before me. But it has its foundation in very hard work. The joy is largely hidden until the dust settles, and the job is done.
So, now filled with a little joy of my own I told Mary Lou that I understood her situation and would leave her to her work. She smiled that smile that only the very committed-to-compassion can bring from that sacred place to their countenance. You can see such a smile, on the lips, in the eyes as it rises from the heart. Those of you who witness this, know what of I speak.
Enroute home I spotted a lady pushing a supermarket cart with deposit returnables. There are not many such pushers of deposit carts around Long Beach but you do see some who engage in that curb trade. The street term for this I’ve learned in my police career is “cannin’.” Some among us might think of them as the lazy, the losers, the low energy people, as they trudge through baking heat and frigid cold collecting hundreds of cans and bottles worth five cents each.
I pulled to the curb and asked her name. She answered and I said, “This is for you,” and gave her the equivalent of four hundred deposit containers. She too smiled sunshine into this shortest day of the year and gave me a sincere, “Thank you.”
Most of you, I’m sure, give all you can, all year round without the grand gestures I described to you in my post. You do it with silent humility. You don’t go home and write about it on your computer for the world to behold.
And some of you can’t afford to give much, but still do what you can. Some might even be receivers of such giving. Many receivers at Christmas and Thanksgiving programs I’ve worked at become givers the next year. And the years after that.
We are all on a journey, each at various stages of the mortal trek, and we learn from the stages. Some of us miss out on important stages. They’re deprived of deprivation and never know what real need is. But some of us do…and never forget.
Life. It’s about expressing gratitude wrapped in joy.
The sip of the Season was what I needed. The days grow longer. Life is good.
and yes, Merry Christmas