Here it is, Christmas Eve, and I’ve been ready for months. Seriously — I bought my last Christmas gift in September. It’s something for my mother-in-law, who is visiting with us this week.
My partner and I discussed how bad the economy was, and decided that we would not give each other gifts this year. We decided to donate to charity in the other’s name. Non-profits need more help this year than ever, and my partner and I don’t really need anything.
It was difficult for me to figure out what charity to ask him to support for me. I am involved in a number of non-profit groups to which I contribute throughout the year (in both time and money), and I didn’t want his contribution on my behalf to favor one over another, or make it too complex and diluted to split it up among all of them. Then an email that I received last Friday decided it.
I need to explain by relating a life story of friendship that began 47 years ago. My family had just moved into a new house, and everyone in the family was busy unpacking. I was only four years old and too little to help. I was wandering around the front yard, bewildered about my new environment, and was probably feeling a little lonely and afraid. I looked up to see a kid about my age getting off the back of a bicycle being ridden by his older brother. He walked over to me and while I can’t remember exactly what he said, he became my very first friend. We went to school together through high school.
He and I spent a lot of time playing as kids, and enjoying a long-term friendship. He was faithful, loyal, and a good buddy. He never criticized me for not being able to play any sports, or for being klutzy as heck. He never once asked me why I didn’t want to go to the school dance with a date. His friendship to me was unconditional, and solid as a rock. I never really felt that I appreciated his loyalty until I was much older when I realized how important having someone like that in my life really was.
My friend was always somewhat of a vagabond. He was smart, but only when he applied himself. Most of the time, he didn’t even try. He dropped out of high school, and lived in his car in the back of a church parking lot. We brought him food and let him shower in our house, but he really didn’t want to be dependent. He would get a job, then pick a fight with the boss and get fired. He never seemed to be able to hold down a job for more than a few months. Though when he went for his G.E.D., he aced it.
He eventually moved to Florida then to central Virginia, and we kept in touch from time to time. He married, had kids, and completed an Associate’s Degree. He seemed to be settling down. But he kept having that problem with getting a job, working for a few months to a year, then getting fired, laid off, or otherwise becoming unemployed. He and his wife divorced, and he moved again to Florida to work in the construction industry.
Well, on Friday, December 19, I received an email from my friend in response to one I had sent several weeks ago where I was kidding him that the page in my address book was worn out from erasure marks. I wanted to update it again so I could send him a Christmas card. I was asking him where he was these days and what he was up to.
His response broke my heart. He told me that he lost his house due to foreclosure, his girlfriend left him, he hasn’t worked for six months and can’t find a job. He was down to his last dollar while living with some friends for a few days. All he asked was that I pray for him.
Well, sure, I’ll do that. But I decided to ask my partner for the money that was going to be donated to charity in my name to me so I could wire it to my friend. The least I could do (and add a little more of my own money).
I have mixed feelings, but I won’t judge my friend. He never judged me in all his life. The least I can do is try to help him out, to show what unconditional friendship really means.
Christmas means much more than gifts, lights, decorations, and food. It means family, love, and bonds of friendship that bring meaning to the day and its legacy throughout the year. Regardless of religious beliefs, or my personal divided feelings about organized religion — I truly have faith borne from the Christmas Spirit that carries me throughout the year to enjoy peace, love, and service to those for whom I care. Truly, that’s what Christmas — and my faith — is all about.
Life is short: show those you love that you love them. Merry Christmas, everyone, and may you live a good life rooted in faith and expressed with love.