A Family Christmas
From a Four-year-old Photojournalist

I was asked to do a little voice-over for a friend’s budding ministry at the church this morning.  It focuses on committing to ‘intentional acts of kindness’ in the local community throughout the coming year.  This could be anything like taking in the neighbors rubbish bins to reaching out to the homeless.  I won’t list all the possibilities, as they are obviously endless. But what struck me personally, as I was reading the script, was this line:  6 out of 10 nursing home residents NEVER see a visitor.

When I questioned this, my friend told me that in her research, she’d seen some official reports saying that as many as 8.5 out of 10 nursing home residents never see a visitor. Whether it’s 60 or 80 percent, it’s  still too high a number to wrap my head around. Everyone must have SOMEONE who loves them. Perhaps it just gets too depressing to keep visiting after so long. Maybe its even a matter of too many bridges burnt over a person’s lifetime. Who can know the complicated ins and outs of each human story?  It’s just sad to think of all the loneliness in the world, heightened by the Holidays, which pull on the memory-heartstrings as a warm time of love and generosity and even magic.

Vernon’s dialysis schedule was temporarily changed around this week without my knowledge, so when Justine and I showed up to the nursing home, we were disappointed to find he wasn’t there. However, we were greeted by loud Christmas music blasting from the halls. And not only that, the sound of bells and a very clear (if feminine) “HO HO HO.”

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The wonderful staff had organized  one of their own “Santas” to give out presents to each patient… with elves and bells included.

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Apparently some charity organizes a gift-buying program for invalids.  I didn’t get the name of it, but got the gist that it was developed with some local shopping malls. What a difference some loud music and Christmas bells and a red velvet costume with a beard makes in a place.  Oh the power of a changed atmosphere! And the power of surprise presents. And the power of REALLY? Just for me?

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I don’t know what was in the boxes…I doubt it matters. These people aren’t in a place of needing many things. Or probably even caring about them.  And most of these people will have family to bring some personal holiday cheer to them throughout the week. But it must mean a lot that someone ELSE cares about them. They are remembered. They are thought-of.  What was just  a small gesture for the gift-donators may have made more than a day to one of these strangers, may have made a whole season!

Later this afternoon, as I semi-patiently made my way out of the pre-Christmas parking lot of Trader Joes, I noticed the homeless mother-young daughter team (which I had felt such hopelessly mixed emotions over in my way in) had put their desperate cardboard sign asking for funds down for a moment as they delightedly worked to free a barbie from her box and tethers. Someone had given the girl a real Christmas present, complete with wrapping paper, it seemed.

And here I was again…not even the giver, but witnessing someone else’s giving.  It reminds me that it really doesn’t matter if you never have enough. Yes, sometimes it feels like a bottomless pit, why even try to fill it?  And so often we don’t get to experience the reactions of secret giving. But it multiplies truly…even for those random people (like me today) that get to witness it and experience it in our own hearts.

Visit a forgotten person nursing home. Give a barbie to a homeless girl. Feed the world. It’s all the same thing, after all. Start and sometimes the pit feels less bottomless. Weird. Merry Christmas!

I bet I’m going out on a sentimental limb with this next song. I love it, but I know Vernon would be rolling his eyes. What can I say, I’m feeling inspired!

Vernon wouldn’t think this is cool that I’m sharing this song.  But since he isn’t here to stop me, I’m going for it. Can you believe it’s been 30 years?  I think I may still have the 45 somewhere.
Anyway,  Paul Weller is in it…come on that’s got to count for something, Vernon!

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A Family Christmas
From a Four-year-old Photojournalist