Learning what it means to give
Muffled voices from the living room trickled into my childhood bedroom. I was 5 years old. Groggy and hair askew, I sauntered out in my Little Mermaid pajamas into a scene of bustle and clamor. The house was packed with people: my aunt, uncle and cousin. Both of my parents. Members of my aunt’s extended family visiting from out of town.
It was 2 a.m. on a cold, dark day in mid-December 1991. Mom, who was making more eggs and bacon than our kitchen had ever seen, noticed my hesitation and pulled me aside to explain. Everyone was OK, but the house my aunt, uncle and cousin lived in—a mere eight blocks from our own—had caught fire. The damage, caused by aging electrical wires, was limited to the kitchen. The firefighters thought they had it completely out.
A day later, the fire rekindled, and the whole house went up in flames. The house and everything in it was a total loss. It was two days before my cousin Amanda’s 6th birthday, and only eight days before Christmas.
It was decided they would move into our basement—where they’d eventually stay for six months—until their home could be rebuilt. Amanda, who to this day is still more like a sister to me, would share my bunk bed. But we spent much of the first several days of their time with us debating and worrying if Santa would know where to find Amanda that year. Would he know to make a stop for two at the Lords residence?
We needn’t have worried. Santa found us both, but the thing I’ll remember the most from that Christmas wasn’t what I got that year; it was my first lesson in what it means to give and receive.
As soon as they moved in, many acquaintances and strangers alike who heard about the fire started showing up on our doorstep with Christmas gifts, clothing and casseroles. The hospital my aunt worked at gathered more than $1,000 in cash donations. The Red Cross stepped in and offered assistance. Gift certificates and cards were sent in the mail by people wishing to remain anonymous.
Soon the pile of presents and donations of T-shirts, socks and pajamas were more than under our Christmas tree could handle. The precarious pile started growing up the wall with donations of kitchen curtains, canned food and beautiful quilts.
For the first time, I knew Christmas wasn’t about possessions or toys or the new matching bicycles Santa left behind for Amanda and me. I knew it was about something much more: giving what you can, when you can, while you can, to the people who need it most.
That’s a lesson we can all remember this, and every, Christmas season.