Reaching out with the Christmas spirit


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Category: Reflections Date: 24 Dec 00

“Then there is the man who has to close down his business, the woman who can’t make ends meet as a single mother on a paltry salary...”


“...A life lived for the sole purpose of self-gratification,

without giving back to the society we live in,

is as useless as a discarded slipper.”


It’s the time of year when emotions are heightened. When you focus. When, in drawing up your columns of “people to send cards to” and “people to buy presents for “ and “parties to go to” and “groceries to buy,” you notice a funny something in your heart. It’s a liquid feeling of melting chocolate.


All the emotions for your parents, for your spouse, your best friend, your children, your grandmother, your aunt and uncle, your everyday cashier at the grocery, your vegetable lady, eddy inside of you like a chef gone mad with curlicue icing.


It is all mixed-up. No wonder you jig along with a jaunty Christmas tune, or allow a maudlin tear to drip down your cheek at an old Carol. Granted, the feeling may be a little manufactured, a little too “commercial” because of the music and the lights around houses and on trees; and the decorated malls and the warm Santa hats on shorts- clad teenagers but most of it is real.


You allow yourself, in this cool season of lush green and crimson, in the sudden showers rapidly darkening twilights, in the sudden gusts of breeze, to thaw out a bit. You smile at strangers, wait patiently in the queue, are even indulgent at the vagrant rapping as he does on your window every morning and fling him a dollar or two. You throw out the airy “getting ready for Christmas?” to friends and acquaintances.


Take X for instance. I saw her at a public swimming pool where we were watching our sons swim and asked about “her Christmas” as we do here, making each public occasion private. She told me. Her husband has been out of a job for six months. She could have been sitting on the Titanic watching her life sink about her. The last of the savings have been used for the mortgage repayment, and she is praying she doesn’t lose the house they bought after ten years of marriage.


Then there is the man who has to close down his business, the woman who can’t make ends meet as a single mother on a paltry salary; the little boy who, Christmas or no Christmas, continues to spend all day in the hot sun selling oranges so his family can buy bread and milk, when he should be spending time being a child getting scolded by a caring adult for meddling in the Christmas cake.


There are the disappointed faces of the children in orphanages, after the tenth party of the season, when the last soft drink is drunk and they unwrap their present to find a discarded, battered doll, or a cheap thoughtless battery toy, which is of no use to them, and they slowly make their way back to their little bunks, with no mummy, no daddy to take away the ache and loneliness in their heart because mom or dad are on drugs, in prison, or too poor, or don’t care enough, or battered or dead from AIDS.


You take out a boy from one of these homes, no older than ten or 11 out for a day as your “token.” You expect him to be grateful for the treats you give him, feeling self-righteous and virtuous and are surprised at his hostility. Surprised when he talks of “robbing up” people, surprised that he looks at you as if he hates you. He has hardened. Children instinctively pick out the patronising from the real, intuit the difference between pity and compassion, and above all, know when you lack empathy, and live and act as if there are different standards for “us” and “them.”


One day, this boy will be an angry man and we will cower under him, or look helplessly at his gun, wondering why “decent” people can’t be left alone. At first I thought the boy was just an isolated case, but then I had to see not everyone was thawing. Many people were hardening. Some were hardening from going under, others from not wanting to know.


I feel the hardening, the chill this Christmas for sure, after conducting a call-in programme on Radio 104 on the topic “Can we go beyond the hamper this Christmas.” My guests, Karina Jardine Scott from Kids In Need of Direction, (KIND) and Steve Solomon from the St Vincent de Paul Society were saying how needy children in homes were exhausted and even sick from “parties” (held by organisations more as self-referential patronising, pompous public relations tokens rather than having any real empathy for the recipients of their “charity”).  Karina was saying how these children only learn about short-term gratification from “parties.” All of us were saying how, with a little bit of effort, we could sponsor a child, year-round, with books, clothes, doctors fees, extra lessons, necessities like that. And we talked about the loneliness of the elderly, who want nothing but some company. We got no calls. Neither pledges of support for the charitable organisations that were represented, nor any confirmation of what we were saying, that a life lived for the sole purpose of self-gratification, without giving back to the society we live in, is as useless as a discarded slipper.


When we were parting, X said with an absence of bitterness, a smile that reached her eyes: “All I’m giving for Christmas to my children, my husband, my loved ones is lots of hugs and love. Come and visit us, nah?”


Then she hugged me and the Liquid Chocolate Christmas feelings came back. More than anything, it was the courage of that last sentence that moved me immensely.


In that sentence, she seemed to have pared Christmas down to its essence: sacrifice, hope, faith, empathy, and the triumph of the human spirit against the odds.


Merry Christmas.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur