Throughout the ages, we have been told that generosity is the wellspring of happiness and that, « as we give, so shall we receive. » Generosity unfolds in the art of giving, and giving comes from the heart.
Life is short and the time to give is while we live. Our most treasured gifts are those with messages that speak with beauty and remind us of the joy of life blessed by Love.
The following story illustrates this and is our gift to you for the holiday season. Its author wishes to remain anonymous.
* * * * *
There is a destiny that makes us brothers:
None goes his way alone:
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own.
This is a true story that happened to a good friend of mine during the Depression. I’ve been retelling it these days, especially to those passing through difficult times. As best I remember, this is how it went.
We lived in Denver where my father had a small business. I was only eight years old then. My mother was as loving a mother as anyone could have, and my sister, Maggie, who was sixteen at the time, was just like Mother, with a big, generous heart.
I’ll never forget that evening, a few days before Christmas. It was snowing — one of those big Colorado blizzards. I was reading when Maggie tip-toed into my room, and with a hurried whisper, said, « Come with me to Mother. » I looked up from my book, surprised.
Maggie was very serious: « I heard them talking this morning. Something went wrong with Father’s business. He is terribly worried. Mother was trying to encourage him, but I could tell they were both troubled. We’re in an awfully tight spot, do you understand? There is no more money. Father was saying they’ll have to make big sacrifices. Now you and I must do the same. We must sacrifice, too. Are you ready? Good. I will do the talking, and you nod ‘yes’ and promise to do everything I say. »
Maggie motioned me to follow, and we went quietly downstairs to our mother, who was sitting on the sofa in front of the fire, knitting. I curled up on one side of her and Maggie on the other.
« Mother, I have something to tell you – we both want to talk to you. »
She looked at us, puzzled.
« Father’s shop is failing, isn’t it? »
« What are you saying! » exclaimed Mother, blushing. « It’s not true! What gave you that idea? Who told you? »
« I know, » said Maggie resolutely.
« Well, listen, Mother. Jimmy and I want to make sacrifices, too. You had promised me a coat for Christmas and Jimmy was hoping for a new watch, but we don’t want anything now. We don’t want you to spend money on us. We’ll be happy just the same, Mother. »
Mother tried to speak, but Maggie insisted, « No, that’s the way it’s going to be. We have decided that until the shop is doing better, we don’t want any desserts, fruit, toys, or anything else. Soup will be enough, and for breakfast, we’ll eat bread, so our expenses will be less. We promise you that we’ll be just as happy, won’t we, Jimmy? »
I nodded, « Yes. »
« You’ll see us just as happy, » repeated Maggie, placing a finger on Mother’s lips to stop her from protesting.
« And if there are other sacrifices to make, we’ll make them…and we’ll sell our gifts. I’ll give away all my things, and I’ll do the housework. We’re not going to hire help from outside our home. I’ll do the work you need done, before and after school, and on the weekends, whatever you ask. I’m ready to do anything! Anything! » she exclaimed, throwing her arms around her mother’s neck, « just so you and Father have no more sorrows, so you won’t worry anymore, so you can feel good, like you used to. Between your Maggie and your Jimmy, we love you so much we would die for you! »
I had never seen my mother as moved as when she heard those words. She had never kissed us so intensely on the forehead, crying and laughing, unable to speak. Afterward, to regain her self control, she got up to stir the logs in the fire, and turned to us calmly, assuring us both that Maggie had misunderstood — we weren’t so desperately poor. Mother thanked us a hundred times and was happy all evening. When Father came home, she told him everything. He said nothing, poor Father! We found out later that his business would be bankrupt by the turn of the year.
On Christmas morning, we gathered around our little tree. There I found my watch and Maggie her coat. I felt a great happiness and a great sadness.
Father smiled bravely: « There’ll be no sacrifices at Christmas. Where there is love, there is no abiding poverty because that’s when we best remember how rich we really are. »
We received help from our grandparents, and after the business folded, Father went to work for a local mining company. I took up a job delivering papers. Mother and Maggie made a small income knitting sweaters and selling the bread they baked. Before long, things changed. Father started another business, and we were able to help others who were experiencing hard times, as we had.
This story may sound sentimental in our skeptical times, but one thing never changes: a loving family is still and will always be the greatest fortress in hard times, far safer and more reliable than insurance companies or welfare. Where there is love, there is no abiding poverty.
Two questions remain: Do we have the courage to love one another? Can we turn away from greed and violence and learn to live together on a restored earthly garden? The answers will depend on the efforts and vision of each and every one of us.
Wishing you all a joyous holiday and a peaceful 2007.