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Developing Eyes of Compassion

The holiday season is a time for remembering. It's a time for giving thanks for all of our many blessings. It is also a time for us to be more conscious of those who are ...

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The holiday season is a time for remembering. It's a time for giving thanks for all of our many blessings. It is also a time for us to be more conscious of those who are not as blessed as we are. As we gather around our holiday tables this year, there will be more homeless families, more homeless children, more troubled young adults walking the streets seeking support and a growing number of men and women suffering from addiction who are seeking treatment that is not affordable and that is out of their reach.

This holiday season we will also be struggling because many young men and women from our community have elected to serve our nation and the armed forces and will be poignantly absent from our tables. They will be risking their lives in the Middle East fighting a war that has divided the nation and caused all of us to think more about justice and peace. Hopefully, no matter what our political position regarding the war, we will remember those courageous young men and women and their families in the midst of our celebrations and will pray for their safe and expedient return home and for an immediate end to this terrible conflict.

Christmas, whether you are religious or non-religious, is about people. We cannot allow our consumer mentality to blind us to that fact. This time of year is supposed to be about people reaching out to people and trying to make a difference.

We're fortunate that we live in a community that is exceptionally generous with its' time, talent and treasure, not just at Christmastime, but throughout the whole year.

At a time when so many people seem to be so cynical and selfish, how refreshing it is to meet people who are excited about life and are committed to making things better. Christmas Magic started a number of years ago when a local Dad wanted his teenage children to appreciate their blessings and to think of the needs of others, especially needy children. That first Christmas when he took his children to buy presents for a few needy families has blossomed into a Christmas outreach that has people working all year long responding to the needs of the growing number of children who otherwise would not celebrate Christmas. Thanks to his efforts and the hundreds of volunteers who are predominantly high school and college students from across the county, over five thousand children will have Santa Claus visit them this year.

What is more important than the gifts that are being bought and donated is seeing the spirit of camaraderie among these young people. Too see the expressions on their faces as they read these letters to Santa from children who in many ways live worlds apart from them is overwhelming. It is evident that their hearts have been touched and they have developed eyes of compassion that will continue long after Christmas passes.

Each year during the holiday season I am continually amazed by people's generosity. The countless number of people reaching beyond themselves to touch other people's lives is amazing. This year I have been profoundly touched by how many people who are limited in their own resources have given not out of their excess but from their own need. This generosity of spirit is definitely contagious.

Probably the most compelling Christmas story to date has to do with a twenty-year-old boy I see for counseling. While he was waiting for his appointment, I was talking with a mother and her three small children and giving them some food, clothing and blankets. They had fallen on some hard times because her husband, the father of her children, was serving time upstate for drug possession with the intent to sell. In another life, they were an upper, middle class family until the father began using and selling cocaine. After that, their world fell apart. Now they are on public assistance, barely making ends meet.

The mother came to see me right after Thanksgiving and asked if I could help her with Christmas. I said I would be willing to do whatever I could. I asked her to have the children write letters to Santa Claus.

JC is nine, bright and very shy. In his letter to Santa Claus, he asked for a winter coat, a pair of sneakers without holes in them, gloves and a new bike. At the bottom of his letter was a P.S. that touched everyone's heart. It read, "Only give me this stuff if you can, after you have taken care of my brother, my sister and my Mom. They deserve Christmas much more than me. Love, JC."

The twenty year old who comes for counseling asked to read that letter and started to tear. He asked me if he could take care of the things that JC asked for. I said sure, but was concerned that he had little to no resources to do this. The next week he came in beaming. He had gotten everything on the list, especially the new bike, and was so proud. I said he needed to come with me when I dropped these things off so he could see the joy in the children's eyes.

A week later I found out that my counselee had used his last hundred dollars to pay for the new bike. He was so proud of himself that he had sacrificed something for someone else. He told me that the whole experience truly made his Christmas.

Sometimes we take for granted what we have been given. It takes a story like JC's to remind us of what is really important. How many of us this holiday season will spend money we don't have on things we don't need, for people we can't stand? Is that really the meaning of the season?

However we elect to celebrate during the holiday season, let's be mindful of those among us who will not have a table to gather around or people to be with. Some will not even have a warm place to sleep.

Christmas should not be just one day a year. The spirit of Christmas should be practiced every day. We should make a greater effort to build bridges instead of walls, to be more inclusive rather than exclusive. We should work harder at being more tolerant and respectful of people's differences rather than being so judgmental.

The magic of Christmas has the potential and possibility to open everyone's heart to dream dreams and believe in miracles. Christmas can be a time when miracles do happen!