Vanessa, my daughter, and I went shopping for the thermal socks, some gift bags and a bunch of stuff to put in them while she was here visiting me the weekend before Christmas. The last thing we did together before I had to take to the airport was to put the four bags together.
We stuffed them to nearly overflowing with socks, Christmas candy, peanut butter crackers, Vienna sausages, deviled ham, soda crackers, plastic utensils, wet wipes, razors, cookies, warm scarves and the one extravagance – scented soaps. She and I shared a truly special few moments. I only wish she could have been there to help me give them out.
I chose to spend Christmas Day alone so after opening presents with Vanessa via Skype, I went in search of people who could use a little cheer on a cold holiday morning. It took me a while to spot the first three men huddled near the street; one with a very neatly arranged shopping cart and two with nothing but themselves. All three were rubbing their bare hands together in an attempt to keep warm. I pulled up in my little red Yaris and they eyed me suspiciously.
When I got out with three brightly colored bags in my hands, their faces lit up. I was suddenly embarrassed and wasn’t able to be as open and loving as I’d planned. I mumbled Merry Christmas and nearly shoved the bags at them. They thanked me profusely, which embarrassed me even more. I do think I managed to smile and when I drove off I honked my horn and waved at them. It was excruciating for me and I don’t really know why.
So, I had one bag left. This time it took a bit longer, but finally I came upon a fellow standing in the median with a sign asking for money. I pulled into a parking lot and walked ½ way across the crosswalk to give him the last bag. He was a mess; dirty, rumpled and reeking of alcohol. But he was so happy to be given the bag. I spoke to him longer than I had the other three. He was alone and he needed a kind word or two as much as he needed what was in the bag.
I wished him Merry Christmas and crossed back to my car, where I cried for a few minutes. I’m so lucky in my life.
So, these gift bags that were filled with “stuff” for the homeless and were also filled with lessons for me. The first was to appreciate all that I have – every day.
The second was centered on the idea of giving what’s needed instead of the easy answer – a buck or two. I often see people I would like to help out, but I do what many people do – struggle with whether or not the money I give someone on the street will be used to support an addiction. The internal arguments I go through each time are painful for me. Now, I have an answer. I will always carry gift bags in my car so I can hand them out instead of money.
Today I bought two turquoise bags at the Dollar Store and enough goodies to fill them. I like this plan.