Yesterday, we were headed to the Seattle airport to fly to Denver. Christmas in Colorado is always a good thing, and Christmas with our son is even better.
This was a year to celebrate early with the Littles to accommodate shared family time.
I was riding in the back seat with Riley, watching her draw a holiday scene with six-year-old skill, the faces of her stick figures showing that charming combination of cartoon, and child-view of what humans really look like. (Hint, they have very big eyes.)
She was absorbed in her drawing, the others in the car were caught up in their conversations.
Something caught her eye, and looking out the window, she said, “I see homeless!” We were driving past the over-passes in the downtown of Seattle, and you can often spot tents and temporary shelters that homeless folk have set up. Riley has seen those tents before, has a child’s concept of what “homeless” means.
She looked at me with troubled eyes. “Are some children homeless?”
Yes, I was honest with her. There are many homeless children.
She grew quiet, looked thoughtful.
“I want to have homeless children come to my house for Christmas.”
I didn’t try to tell her that’s not really practical, or even possible. I saw it, in a flash of her six-year-old eyes. I saw awareness that she had more than some, and that awareness triggered a generous impulse. It was the impulse of a child, who doesn’t understand the complexities of social issues, or logistics, or the cost of anything.
She just wanted to help children who are less fortunate.
Like many Americans of my station in life, I worry a bit. Especially this time of year. I can’t help but wonder if Riley and Jack will be spoiled, the product of well-intentioned family and parents, who want to give them a good life.
It’s easy to give to the point of doing damage, and while my daughter and her husband are thoughtful about the gifts they give the Littles, they can’t control everyone around them. The reality is that many American children have too much stuff, but not enough of the right stuff.
Seeing Riley’s face, looking out the window, thinking about homeless children who will not wake up to a warm and merry Christmas, I felt reassured for her. She’s getting it, the real meaning of the holiday, which is all about giving…the ultimate gift.
And it made me think…what if adults could be more focused on just doing what needs doing, less caught up in the political / social / financial aspects of reaching out? Yes, I understand that it’s easy to talk about doing for others, but the moment you begin to think about how, you’re confronted with difficult realities. Which is probably why most people, myself included, are usually contented with giving money to charities, and tell ourselves we’ve done our part.
Riley made me think about that in a different way. This year, I want to be more hands-on. I don’t know what that could look like. But I think it could be good.
You never know what seemingly insignificant moments will impact life. I couldn’t guess, sitting beside Riley yesterday, if that moment will stay with her, shape her in years to come. Maybe. Maybe not.
But I think it was a moment that will stay with me. It was a moment when a child reminded me, in the midst of Christmas travel and gifting and busy-ness, what we should really be about…not out of guilt or pressure, but because sharing with those who have less is the right thing to do. I know that, and I practice that. But Riley reminded me that at least some component of giving should be done in person. That’s when we know the real meaning of sharing…when we connect face to face.
I shared this story to encourage, not to guilt, and to promise myself that I want to give differently. So much of my giving is convenient, sanitary, impersonal. There is value to giving money, I don’t want to minimize that. But I want to acknowledge, it’s not really personal.
Thank you, Riley, for the Christmas lesson, though you weren’t aware it meant anything to me.
And I thought she was the one learning the lessons of life!
Blessings, peace, and Merry Christmas!