December 29, 2016

I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t get into the Christmas spirit this year. My typical enthusiasm was nonexistent. Didn’t care about gifts, wasn’t looking forward to any of it, no plans to do anything special. Recent personal and political issues have left me feeling psychically beaten, heart and mind smashed by the weight of the issues. In the weeks leading up to Christmas I felt too wrung out to care about the season of giving, I just wanted it to be over.

As the occasion got closer, Sybille and I decided to spend the 24th and 25th with my aunt Trudy and uncle John. I forced myself to put together a list of gifts for everyone, and acquire them. But everything felt emotionally hollow.

Felt a little better when I started baking. As I made cake and jam and cookies, and thought about who might enjoy them, a glimmer of seasonal mirth flickered inside. The simplicity of hand made kindness felt better than anything I’d found in the stores. But I couldn’t write any cards. The words just wouldn’t come. And every hour and dollar I spent shopping felt like a complete waste.

Then, six days before Christmas, it happened. Aunt Trudy said she was going to spend the afternoon of Christmas Eve giving out pizzas to homeless people. Did Sybille and I want to join her? As soon as the thought formed in my mind, my heart woke up. The idea of giving help to people who genuinely needed it sounded better than every single Christmas sale and advertisement combined. “Yes. We’d love to go with you.” As soon as the decision was made, I felt better. And the more I thought about it, the better I felt.

We loaded two boxes of oranges, three cases of water bottles, and twenty freshly baked pizzas into the car. I didn’t know where we were going or what to expect, and as we drove into the back lots of the industrial area of town, wasn’t entirely sure about the safety of what we intended either. It was freezing cold. Fresh snow was on all the surrounding hills, and a bitterly cold wind howled through town, blasting around buildings, scouring the parking lots, cutting through however many layers of clothing you had on. The places Trudy usually saw groups of homeless people gathered were deserted. We’d have to give out the food one person at a time. My internal warning signals were pinging.

But as soon as we offered pizzas to the first guys we saw, their appreciation shone through all the difficulties. They were hunkered down in a pile of cardboard boxes in the lee of a parked truck trailer, and were damned glad to receive warm food. Even happier when offered a couple of bed liners and blankets. They thanked us several times.

We drove to another parking lot. Again we offered food to people we found tucked against a windbreak, huddled in piles of rags. Again we received smiles and thanks in return. The magic was happening.

The third stop was a guy so tightly huddled into his pile of shelter I never even saw him, just the hand that reached out when Trudy and Sybille offed the pizza and their smiles as he took it.

Fourth stop was for five men and women gathered on a concrete porch. They were so grateful it brought tears to my eyes. One man extended his arms out to each side and enthusiastically proclaimed, “God’s mercy works in amazing ways!” That group thanked us repeatedly, waddling slightly from the thickness of the multiple pars of pants they each were wearing to try to endure the cold.

A couple of the individuals said nothing, just received the food, and looked down at it. But they waved as we drove away.

The last people we donated to were a group of six young adults. They were standing out in front of a closed store, hiding from the worst of the wind. As soon as we offered food, they began to smile and thank us, and as we passed out pizzas, water, and oranges, they told us about their day. We heard how two of them had spent the previous night in a hospital, recovering from hypothermia. We heard how they were released from the hospital wearing only the paper thin scrubs the hospital had given them, and the only reason they had clothing now was because of a church group who had given them clothing earlier that day. We noticed how one of the men, who looked about twenty-five years old, didn’t have any front teeth. We noticed how one man was more concerned about food for his dog than for himself. And in between everything they said to us were numerous thanks. We gave them sweaters and other clothing too. When the last pizzas had been given out, we drove over to a Ninety-Nine Cent store, bought colorful beanies for each of them, and drove back to give them the hats.

We gave away twenty pizzas, one at a time, without an instant of rudeness or a speck of danger. Every single recipient was genuinely grateful, and rarely have I ever felt the words, “Merry Christmas” more deeply. To be able to put the gifts right in their hands and see their smiles, face to face, were the most beautiful moments of brotherly love I’ve experienced in a long time.

As the holiday season concludes, I have many beautiful memories and a pile of thoughtfully chosen gifts. I feel incredibly blessed all the people I care about most have everything they need. I love Sybille, my family, and my close friends more than anything in the world. But my most cherished moments from this Christmas season were the time we spent giving to the homeless people in Victorville. We didn’t know them, didn’t even know their names. But it didn’t matter, their smiles and shining eyes said it all.

Happy holidays everyone. May we all continue to love and share and care for one another, no matter what happens in Washington. Let’s sustain the love of the holiday season throughout the entire year. Distorted, over sensationalized news is not the truth. The truth, as we all know, is, most people are wonderful. The freaks are on the news because they are the exception. Stay strong, hearts open, eyes forward. We’re all in this together.