“Pay It Forward” is a movie in which a young boy, who believes in the basic goodness of people, decides to try to get as many as he can to do good. Instead of paying a favor back, he asks them to pay it forward and, in that, do something for someone else.
A boy with a drum, wanting to give something to a very important person of his time, but having very little, decides all he can give is his music. It is one of the best gifts.
“Seven Pounds” is a movie in which Will Smith stars as an IRS agent who, due to a haunting secret, decides to change the lives of seven people he does not know.
And, finally, there is the story of the young girl who gives her last peso to buy a cage for a bird with a broken wing. A king comes to town. People from miles around come to honor him with gifts, but the girl, in helping the bird, has left herself with very little. She visits this king anyway, apologetically telling him she has nothing to give. He simply asks her to open the door of the cage and out flies the bird. It flies up to the rafters and from its throat issues a song for which there are no words.
History, literature and music are full of tales like this. Sometimes trite, sometimes filled with irony (check out “Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry), sometimes just a story for it’s own sake. Someone decides to do a good deed to help someone or give a gift even if it requires giving something of themselves. Self sacrifice for the betterment of another. Regardless of whether or not these stories represent specific meaning or characters to you, they are heart-warming and a pleasure to know for anyone.
Unfortunately, what we hear and read about in the media and sometimes what we actually see with our own eyes during this time of year doesn‘t necessarily jibe with the pleasant emotions these stories make us feel. In the reality of everyday life, we hear few stories of loving kindness and personal sacrifice compared to those of mayhem in stores, money spent or made, shootings, murder trials and pop stars’ transgressions.
We see trite signs admonishing others to remember the true meaning of a particular holiday. Yet they are surrounded by plastic, over-sized candles and nylon blow-up Disney characters. All the focus is on giving, but not in the way that goes deep and requires actual emotional work. It’s giving as an afterthought. It’s giving the way the marketers want it. And when the marketers are in control, there’s something seriously janky going on.
Bah, humbug, right? Wrong. It’s out there.
I am an observer this time of year. We celebrate a day/set of days that is different from most everyone else in December and so find ourselves a little on the outside looking in. Speaking with a friend the other day about the holidays and how he celebrates with his family, he related how he and his wife raise about a thousand dollars a year with which to purchase gift certificates for food. They take them down to the mission in the large city nearby and hand them out to the unfortunates. Those folks that wait each day for the mission to open so they can once again get a hot meal, a warm place to rest, perhaps hear a kind word.
My friend has a secret, too. A secret he has told few people.
Only until relatively recently I have always thought Black Friday meant a dark day in which people fought and jostled and set aside their character to buy, buy and buy some more. It represented the side of the final days of a year that were unpleasant, cold and superficial. A day when being friendly takes a back seat to being first.
Then I found out it was just about money. Retailers getting into the black for the year. A concept dating back to the forties just after the war had ended and the economy was in need of a boost. Don’t misunderstand. Commerce is important and store owners and their employees have to make a living, too. For them Black Friday is something to look forward to (mostly). But ignorance really is bliss sometimes and even though I now know, I will still think of that particular Friday as a dark day in the course of human events.
My friend, let’s call him Kris, is not well off in the practical sense. He and his wife, in fact, have had their share of financial challenges in this economy. He does, however, own a custom tailored Santa suit and that changes everything.
On a random night during the holidays, he wears that suit and heads out to drive around looking for people. Not necessarily people down and out, just people. Maybe someone’s pumping gas, buying groceries or a family is having a quiet dinner together in a restaurant. It could be anyone, anywhere. He’ll roll up in his Santa suit to buy all the groceries, ask the restaurant server to let him pay the bill for the family or even walk up and slide his card into the reader at the pump before the person getting out of their car can do it.
I do not know what the exact nature of the interactions are or what is said between this Samaritan and the recipients of his kindness. It is theirs to know and there is a certain quiet privacy to such kindness and generosity. That’s the beauty of it. The purity. What I do know is they both walk away with something more than they started. When it comes down to it, isn’t that the stuff we all want a little more of? I do.
As the days of 2009 ebb away and this year comes to a close, maybe if you’re standing in line, get the pastry for the person behind you or tell the person serving you to take their time, slow down. Or don’t. But imagine what it would feel like and amp that up some. Get a little of that magic for yourself. Give a smile instead of a scowl; a handshake instead of a cold shoulder.
No matter what you celebrate this time of year, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, the Solstice, the Yule or even just a year of health, happiness and success in business, slow down and enjoy the quiet moments; the soft breathing of the kids after lights out, the crispness of the air on a star-filled evening, the soft embrace of someone loved. It matters, we all matter and the more of us who know that the better things could be.
It is a joy to ponder this kind of humanity. What is present in most all of us that sometimes gets lost in all the expectations and “rules.” I think about it and I believe. The spirit of kindness that is so often associated with this time of year is there. It just takes work to see it sometimes and a little extra effort to bring it out in ourselves. I think I’m going to work on that.
The long dark days are coming to a close and the light will soon return to the world as the days begin getting longer. I hope kindness and good fortune shine well and often upon you. Really, I do. Happy/Felis/Merry/Joyeux whatever-you-may-celebrate.