Thursday, December 20, 2007

Don't Count Your Dickens Before They Hatch

"He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist..."

This is exactly the time of year when I become a philanthropist of mind and spirit. The flesh and wallet however, aren’t always so cooperative.
For those of us who are givers, we realize that nothing feels better than the euphoric high which results from the act of selfless giving.
To give of ones self, ones time, and/or ones means--with no expectation for reciprocal gratuities, is in and of itself, addictive.

In the spirit of Charles Dickens, many of us will channel Ebenezer Scrooge (in his post-spirited, reformed state) to assist us in all manners of holiday handouts.
What we may not realize, however, is that while our December efforts are noble and appreciated, they are fleeting and perhaps indulgent.
Yes, I said indulgent.

As consumers, we are sold the entire holiday experience tied up in a temporary, albeit shiny bow of noncommittal.
While we strive to recreate the wonderful life George Bailey so foolishly ignored, our efforts are as temporary as the icicle lights hanging beneath our gutters.
Ironically, George Bailey and the do-gooders whose paths we silently cross during the other eleven months of the year are the true,
unsung heroes of charitability.
They ambitiously (yet inconspicuously) serve their communities whether or not generosity is fashionably in season.

Recently, my son and I attended a holiday toy-drive sponsored by our local parish. Truth be told, our attendance was due in part, to a requirement set forth by diocesan mandate for religious education curriculum. My son needed to fulfill twelve hours of community service and I tagged along for the feel-good-fringe-benefits of proud motherhood. I anticipated a Christmas-card moment but what I received instead was a more significant (and much needed) awakening.

From my first encounter with an unassuming, fairy-esque
Sister Anne, I knew I would be humbled by my experience
(one that almost didn’t happen due to pending wicked weather and an already crammed December calendar).
Our first order of business was to sort toy donations by age appropriateness and gender. My son, being the only male presence ineligible for social security, was voted the official lifter, carrier, and convent-to-dumpster trash-hauler for the day. My favorite teenage couch potato gave one hundred-ten percent to accomplishing his mission with complete disregard for his nagging head cold and late-night-congestion-induced fatigue.

Under Sister Anne’s careful direction, we un-bagged, unwrapped and sorted toys for all ages. Overwhelmed by the generosity of one small community, I remarked that the volume of donations was both impressive and heartwarming. What I learned however, is that toy donations were down from last year, volunteerism was at an all time shortage, and sadly, some of the consistent donors upon whom the church depended, had fallen on their own hard times and thus halted donations for now, and indefinitely.
I also learned that despite all of this, Sister Anne would turn no one away.
On distribution day many parents would arrive at sunrise to form a line and patiently wait to be assigned a number. Each number would allow it’s bearer to “shop” the makeshift toy department with dignity and careful assistance. With her strong faith and undying optimism, Sister Anne would oversee the allocation of every donation, down to the last Barbie accessory.

I wish I could have attended distribution day, but employment demands beckoned. I lived the day vicariously through detailed reporting from my son and husband who attended.
My son was stationed in a tiny kitchen which served as child-care central, for the occasional, unexpected presence of tag-along children. His duty was to keep them occupied and unaware of secret Christmas happenings.
I’m told that he provided excellent supervision and even led a few rounds of Christmas carols (the same ones he refuses to sing along to- at home).
My husband was commissioned to lift Christmas tree donations from the basement to the empty, eager hatch-backs of waiting recipients. Once the tree-supply was depleted, he became the official coffee maker for fatigued, caffeine-deprived volunteers. Somehow he managed to squelch the threat of rebellion for a too-slow coffee urn and a fifty-five cup supply of ground coffee that turned out to be decaffeinated.
The images of my son and husband in such generous form gave me the warm fuzzies and a smile that lasted throughout the day.
But I was most moved by my son’s account of one woman who cried quiet, joyful tears as she discovered that every single item requested in second-grade penmanship on her crumpled list, was available to her. She gratefully embraced Sister Anne and the volunteers who assisted her, and vowed to never forget their generosity.

On this late, happy day in December, it seems an impossible notion that one would forget such an act of kindness. But sadly, most of us will.
Once the decorations are boxed and the last evidence of ripped-wrapping are discarded, the majority of us will go back to the rat race we call life, with little time or effort spent remembering or assisting those in need.
The giants among us, like my petite friend Sister Anne, will be left to their own hopeful resources to fashion lemonade from a few meager lemons.
If not for those dedicated, anonymous few who donate their precious time and resources consistently, I dare say there wouldn’t even be lemons.

I was humbled by those, both young and old, who offered this novice some tips on sorting toys. Their familiarity with this seasonably charitable event led to discussions about their contributions to ongoing missions and food pantries.
I was embarrassed, in the presence of such habitual do-gooders, by the fact that I considered the ordinary demands of my own hectic life to be so unmanageable.
This experience taught me that my own yearly resolutions for weight loss and home improvement are sorely misguided.
As I struggle to formulate a new resolution for 2008 which will allow for an improvement of self, which ultimately benefits the greater good, I will hold fast to the notion of ordinary miracles being performed by the petite and powerful among us.

It would seem that our vision becomes a bit clearer as we view the world through Santa’s spectacles, but where, pray tell is the red suit for the other eleven months of the year?
I can say with surety, that it resides not only in convent basements but also with those who long not for the short lived Dickensian moment of giving, but for the quiet peace that accompanies an eternally generous spirit.

While Ebenezer’s transformation came late in life, and only as a result of a nightmarish visit from three ghosts, I would offer that it is neither too late, nor too frightening for any of us to answer the call.

As I recognize my own shortcomings of Christmases past, I look to Christmas present and Christmas future to guide me through the rest of the year; when although a red suit may no longer be in fashion, it will likely fit me perfectly.

Merry Christmas

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


I’m currently working on the perfect pound cake recipe, as I expect to share many with friends and loved ones for the holidays. I will post the recipe as soon as my efforts are successful.
In the meantime, I am posting a re-print of a well-known letter written by a child to her local newspaper (The Sun).
It’s a good read for those of us who need a little Christmas nudge.

"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

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