On Giving...

Reading all of the stories of giving sent in by our readers has been inspirational; it is wonderful to see how many people take the time to focus on others this time of year. I would like to take this opportunity to share my own story of giving from this holiday season...

My mom grew up poor, really poor, in post-WWII Ireland. The oldest of six children, she always knew that money for food was hard enough to come by; gifts at the holidays were always dependent on a good December for her father (a day laborer in construction). Because she knows what it is like to be hungry and presentless on Christmas, my mom has always made it a priority to try to make the holidays brighter for those less fortunate. For the last decade or so, our family has focused our efforts on the Salvation Army Angel Tree at our local mall; we go as a group, select an ornament or two, and purchase gifts off the wish lists.

Every year it seems we pick an ornament based on different criteria; the year after my dad and grandfather both died, we picked kids that shared their names. Avid reader that I am, one year I picked a kid whose special request was for a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records. My mom always likes to pick a kid who needs a coat. We usually try to pick older kids though we have done care packages for babies a couple of times.

This year, my sister chose a 12 year girl who asked for a bike, and told my mom and I that we needed to get the bike. When we questioned the choice, noting that we could probably fulfill the lists of two or three children with more modest gifts, my sister spoke passionately about her choice, and about the joy that a bike would bring to a child at Christmas. Listening to her, I could vividly remember the feeling I had when I got my first bike- it was the summer my sister was born, and my aunt bought me this little red secondhand bike so my uncle could teach me to ride. I also remembered my first new bike, a pink Schwinn with a banana seat and Mickey Mouse bell that I found next to the Christmas tree when I was 10. I was sold, we sold my mom, and we bought a bike for our Angel Tree child.

It was only when driving home that the true depth of my sister's empathy became clear. When I thanked her for drawing out those memories of how it felt to receive a bike as a gift, for eloquently calling to mind how wonderful that feeling was, she just smiled, and gently reminded me that she has never actually had that feeling because she has always ridden my hand-me-down bikes. It was her memory of how it felt to want to receive a bike that made her so passionately determined to fulfill that wish for another child.

I am grateful to have a mother who instilled such compassion in a child. I am grateful to have a sister who has such a well-spring of empathy for others. I am grateful we were able to help spread some joy to others this holiday season.