I am truly inspired by those with whom I am surrounded each day. This evening, as an audience member, I sat transfixed upon the church sanctuary, spellbound by the melodic holiday voices of the Laurel Hall elementary students. Truthfully, I shed a tear of joy or two as I enjoyed a heartwarming Christmas performance. When I arrived home, I found my way to the den and retrieved a copy of some memoirs I had written over the years. Tonight’s performance and these marvelous children inspired me to share one of those stories with you. It is a Christmas reflection that I penned after a seemingly random set of events, while shopping during the holiday season.
Pulling into a store parking lot last week, I came upon a disheveled soul with outstretched hands and shattered hope. As usual, I did what I most often do. I ignored this particular beggar, lest he be operating some sort of holiday scam. So, I callously drove by him, parked, and entered the store to finish off a growing and irritating gift list and to purchase additional supplies needed for my never-ending home kitchen remodel. Irritated by the noise of the season, the inconvenience of the crowds, the rising costs of retail and now the awkwardness of being confronted for a hand-out, I disdainfully barreled through the store oblivious to my environs. All I wanted to do was to get home, turn on Sunday morning football and watch my favorite team. I worked hard for a living after all, and this was my day to relax.
My patience had waned, and my disdain continued to grow as my journey was further impeded at the check-out stand by this one little old lady engaged in what seemed like endless dialogue with the cashier. The transaction was taking forever, and I began strumming my fingers on the counter as if to shout, "Don't you see that I am in a hurry?"
As I exuded petulance, she turned to glance at me and flashed a gentle smile. Whatever it was that her expression brought, it caused me to pause and pay closer attention. Perhaps there was something more to her seemingly jovial exterior. I noticed that she spoke with a distinct Eastern European accent while she rambled incessantly, indulging the cashier in banter, simultaneously fumbling through her purse. The more she spoke, the more attentive I became, and the more her face began to paint a different and harsh picture. Deep wrinkles, sunken cheeks and hollow eyes emerged. Watching her wrestle with this tattered and torn purse, I was struck by the absence of a thumb on her right hand. It appeared to have been lost some time ago.
Then, something even more startling was revealed. The number 31809 was tattooed across her forearm. Suddenly, I was disgusted by my own incessant narcissistic behavior. Here I stood, amidst the beauty and splendor of the season of rejoice, and I hadn't once thought to be grateful for the gifts which I had received. As this transition unfolded in front of me, I finally realized my fortune - a wonderful family, home, career and life. I was now able to truly see this striking woman, and my recollection of high school world history class told me that this beautiful soul, Number 31809, had led a very different life than mine. I watched her beam and thank the cashier for assisting her with the transaction. And as suddenly as this stranger had entered my life, her thick accent, missing thumb and branded forearm vanished from my sight forever.
I faintly heard the clerk ask, “May I help you?”
I shook my head and said, “No thanks, I’ve already been helped."
I left my items on the counter, walked outside to the homeless man still patiently waiting at the intersection, and I emptied my wallet into his outstretched hands. He thanked me for giving.
I said, "No…thanks for your giving to me. Merry Christmas and may The Good Lord bless you."
Plato once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
This season I wish for all, that reflection is not lost, and that Faith, Hope and Love will prevail.
Thank you, Laurel Hall students, for a wonderful holiday performance, and for giving me another opportunity to pause, breathe, and stay aware. Happy Holidays to all!