By Andrea Zimmerman
As Christmas is fast approaching, there brings with it many emotions. There’s pure joy for some but for others it can lead to frustration, and even depression. Christmas means something different to everyone. It’s typically known as a Christian holiday; as in a celebration of Jesus’ birth. Although I once believed this to be true, I later found out that Christmas was more than a celebration of the Messiah’s birth. It’s also an interruption of anger and of hatred. It’s a quiet interruption to awaken humanity to what it means to be human and to spend the ending of the year to reflect on what kindness really means.
My own awakening began in 2008 with one random act of kindness. What this act did for me, and the person on the receiving end, changed my perspective of what kindness really means.
Every other day I shopped at my local convenience store to gas up and get a cup of coffee. There was this one cashier named Mary. Mary was always friendly and kind, and she always had stories of her young children. She wasn’t on welfare, but she always took the bus home everyday after working the graveyard shift. She was never rude and she always had a smile for her customers.
I knew how hard her job was because I too was once a single mother working two jobs just to make it through each month. I also knew how hard it is to serve the public in a low-wage job.
Customers can be thankless. They constantly complain, yell about the prices and the long lines, and can bring a person down; although, this never bothered Mary. I usually wondered why. How could she be so cheerful in such a job? I knew far too well how unpleasant people could be; especially to Mary, who is Hispanic and Catholic. I am Caucasian and definitely not Catholic, but I knew we weren’t different.
So there I was standing in line, three days before Christmas. I was deep in my thoughts. I was frustrated and disheartened because my children would be spending Christmas with their father in San Jose; but I still had to prepare so they could have their Christmas with their mother when they came back. I loved this time of year when my children were young and little, and it didn’t matter what presents they got because in those days, there was a delight in just knowing that something was waiting under the tree.
Now that they were teenagers, there was more of an expectation. They wanted X-boxes, cell phones, Hollister clothing, and gift cards. Christmas was just about more money that I had to spend, and a bigger bill that I couldn’t afford. It wasn’t the same as it was before. It was a bill that I would be paying long after the holidays and it got to me as I was standing in line that day. It got to me that I was beginning to dread the holidays.
Then I looked up and noticed that in Mary’s eyes, something was wrong. Her face was different. There was no spark in her smile and she reflected anger and a bitter disgust. I had never seen such sadness on her face, and it caught me off guard. But as I approached the register to pay for my purchases, she says to me, “are you ready for Christmas?” It was sarcastic and angry.
I said “no, not really” and I asked her the same. I knew she had children, so I complimented her on being able to experience the joys and the magic of Christmas. But at that she said “no, we won’t be celebrating Christmas this year, or ever again.”
It surprised me quite a bit, but I asked her why she made that choice. “Did you become a Jehovah’s Witness or something?” I said to her. “no” she said, “but I had to tell my three year-old daughter that there was no such thing as Santa. I don’t have any money to buy presents this year and I don’t want my daughter thinking she was being naughty.”
I wasn’t prepared for that. The tears in my eyes began to swell up as I began to understand the devastation my mother had felt. I knew I had to do something, but what could I do in my situation? I was barely making it myself. I had twenty-five dollars to my name and I was going to buy some stocking stuffers for my kids. She wasn’t looking to me for an answer but I think that at that moment, she just needed someone to see her pain.
I had a memory of my daughters and I remembered that over the years they had kept collectible Barbies that they had never opened. They had so many unused toys they had never really played with at that point.
The thing is that at one point in my life, I actually did have money, and with that I had over-indulged my children with too many gifts. I had to do something. I asked Mary to not give up on hoping, that miracles do happen. I told her I would do something.
But she told me not to, and that it wasn’t my responsibility to do anything for her. She apologized for telling me her problems. She said that she was overwhelmed from watching all these people come in and purchasing presents for their kids knowing that she couldn’t get any for her own. So I left the store telling her that I would be back tomorrow.
I called the fire stations asking if they had any presents left from their Toys for Tots fundraiser but they said that it wasn’t possible on such short notice. The last thing to do was to go home and go into my kids’ rooms and look for unopened toys. I got lucky to say the least. There were unopened Barbies, unused purses, and even a rocking horse for her little toddler.
As I went into the garage to find some wrapping paper, I see my eldest daughter’s old Barbie playhouse. There were a lot of memories that came with it and thus a reluctance to consider giving it away. So I said no at first.
I bought the doll house on the first Christmas after my husband had left me for a younger woman. It took me four months to come up with the money, but it was another mother’s turn to enjoy those memories.
I called up my boyfriend, whom at the time wasn’t making much money either. I told him what happened, and that there would be no arguments in helping this mother out. With his last twenty-five dollars, we went out and bought some more toys.
As I wrapped and wrapped going into the next morning, we didn’t sleep much. When we woke up on Christmas Eve, my boyfriend took in upon himself to fix up the Barbie doll house at his maintenance shop. And with that, we decided to go see Mary.
I called her up to tell her we would be there at midnight with a surprise. After we put all the presents together in the pick-up truck, we realized that we had collected 25 presents in all. So it figured that my overindulgence over the years had paid off pretty well.
At the time, I figured it’d be ideal for my boyfriend to wear a Santa hat. And by that, I mean that he was overweight and had gray hair. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t funny to him(go figure).
So at 11:50 p.m. we pulled up to the convenient store. I jumped out of the truck to go get Mary, and when I saw her I said to her, “Mary, there is a Santa, and he will be giving you a Christmas this year.” I took her out to the truck and as she saw the Barbies and the pile of toys, she stood in disbelief. She cried, and as she tried to smile through that, I asked her where her house was so we could deliver her gifts.
So off we went to deliver some presents. We did not have Dasher, nor Prancer, and not even Rudolph would join us this day. But we did have a Pick-up truck, and I had a boyfriend with an adorable Santa hat on his head.
We arrived at her house at a trailer park in a rather bad side of town. As nervous as we were, we were more excited of course. We knocked, and her brother answered the door. I realized the seriousness of the situation when I looked into her two-bedroom trailer. It was kept clean, but the smallness overshadowed any compliment I could give it.
There were two little boys sleeping on the couch as a little girl walked in from another room. The man told her to go back since it as so late. After we finished unloading all the presents, the man thanked us for everything we had done. He wasn’t crying, but I saw tears in his eyes.
As we drove of, we knew we had done a good thing. My boyfriend and I looked at each other and there wasn’t much to do except smile.
Christmas came and went, and that Christmas I was truly happy. I wasn’t depressed that my kids weren’t with me and I wasn’t resenting the fact that I hadn’t had much left to give my own children.
When they came back I told them what I had done for Christmas day, and I was glad, because they were proud of me. They weren’t mad that I had given away their toys, because they realized it wasn’t about that.
I didn’t see Mary for two weeks, but when I did see her she was back to her beautiful self. She ran up to me and gave me a huge hug and thanked me for my kindness. I hadn’t felt that I had done much. I felt that I was helping someone who had gone through the same things I had gone through. I knew her pain because her pain was my own. So maybe I helped myself out a little bit that day.
The thing about Christmas is that it isn’t so much about the holiday. It isn’t about a religion. It’s about a time of year where all things come to closure and we have to figure out who those are that need us most. And I hope that as we get to Christmas and as we enter the new year, my readers will remember that human kindness is the greatest gift of all. Merry Christmas and I wish you all a happy New Year.