“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver”.~Maya Angelou
Today I went to do my Christmas shopping. One or two trips will usually do it because I have a small family here, just me and my daughter. And while there are times when I get sad that I don’t have the huge family Christmas to look forward to, I’m also glad that I can avoid the shopping, decorating, baking, home and family perfection juggernaut that so many people get caught up in. But I do love to give presents, even if they are just small, so my friends, acquaintances, sometime strangers and often charities are often the beneficiaries . The hardest thing is convincing people that they don’t have to reciprocate, I just really like giving gifts, particularly when they are unexpected. So if you are on my “nice” list, I had a lot of fun today and I hope you enjoy the small tokens of my affection.
But a strange thing happened, even for me, on my way to Robson Street, the Vancouver shopping nirvana.
I got off the bus and walked past a doorway on a somewhat seedy street and there was an older Asian man, obviously homeless, huddled in the limited shelter. It was cold today, not Prairie cold, but cold enough that I was thankful for my warm coat, wool socks and boots. Downtown Vancouver is plagued by the homeless, by drug addicts, by panhandlers and street people. Usually I ignore them, because I have seen the same people pan handling the same street corners for years. Literally. We have a law that makes it illegal to panhandle at bus stops (thank goodness) and as we are all creatures of habit if you turn them down once or twice they leave you alone.
But this poor man was so obviously cold and in distress. He wasn’t even trying to panhandle, just huddled in the doorway. He had on a light jacket but no shirt or sweater and what really caught my attention was the open sandals and bare feet. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that for homeless people, keeping their feet healthy is very difficult. Shelters will always welcome packages of warm socks – it’s something that never gets donated.
I couldn’t get the image of this man out of my head, so as I walked past one of our large department stores, on an impulse I went in and bought some warm wool socks, a fleece sweater and some gloves and a hat. Nothing fancy, it cost me less than $50, and I took them back to him. There was a language barrier and I would guess a mental health issue and it caused a bit of a scene on the street, but I did manage to convince him that these were for him and that he should put them on. When I left people were staring (I guess kindness is something to stare at) but at least one person was a bit warmer, even for a short while. I know very well that he may lose those new clothes to some other homeless person, living on the streets does not engender kindness, but I did what little I could. Blame it on Christmas.
Now that I was into the spirit of the day, I picked up a gift card at Chapters for the Pan Pacific Christmas Wish Breakfast on Thursday. It’s an annual event I’ve been going to for many years where they collect gifts for the Vancouver Christmas Bureau. I like to give books for teenagers, it’s not as cute as a stuffed toy, but gifts for older kids are much needed.
And I dropped off a warm coat at Urban Body Laser for their annual Coats for Kids event. I love the people at this business, they really live their values.
To round out my day, I tracked down my two favourite street musicians on their regular corners and dropped a $20 in their jars. One of them in particular will be familiar to anyone who spends time in downtown Vancouver. This man plays violin beautifully and always has his lovely and very well cared for golden retriever with him. I’ve seen him and enjoyed his music for years. The astonished look on his face as I thanked him for his music was priceless.
And how was the rest of my shopping day? Did my family end up with anything? Oh yes, they did just fine, although we decided a few years ago that giving experiences was better than giving more stuff, so most of my gifts fell into the future fun category (weekend in Whistler anyone?) with a few stocking stuffers thrown in.
So when you are out there doing the last, mad dash around the mall this Christmas, stop for a moment and consider. Do you really need that 15th stocking stuffer? Or is there another way to embrace the spirit of the season other than with a surfeit of consumerism. Challenge yourself, you won’t regret it.
Here is a great song about being down on your luck from the amazing Grace Potter and the Nocturnals – Low Road.