Saturday, December 08, 2007

Enough, and to spare.

When I was in high school, two of my non-Christian friends went in together and in lieu of a Christmas present, donated money to a charity in my honor. The surprising thing wasn't how moved I was -- it was a thoughtful thing for them to do -- but rather the realization that none of my overtly Christian friends or family had ever done that for me and that I had never done it for anyone else. I mean, I'd given to charities on occasion, and I know that most other people do as well, but I'd never given to a charity in place of a regular gift, nor asked others to do that for me. Reading and re-reading the card from those two friends gave me a feeling that is often elusive amid all the fa la las -- that my mere existence on the planet had made some positive difference in the life of a person who truly needed it. It was great.

I love to see my little niece smile when she opens her toys (though she most often prefers the ribbons to the toys), and I love to see my mom get the warm gloves she needs for her commute to work. Heck -- I even love to see Dad parade around in his new parrot slippers that I know he'll rarely wear again, except as a joke. If I get the Jeeves and Wooster series on DVD,* I will hug it and kiss it and sleep with it under my pillow and there is no chance in h--- that I will run out and donate it to the local orphanage in a bid for sainthood. But if instead someone gave to charity what they could have spent on Jeeves, I will still live in a warm apartment with clean running water and a comfy bed. I will still have more delicious food than is healthy for me to eat, more DVDs than I can watch, more CDs than I have space for, more books than I have time to read, a car that runs, money for the bus if the car stops running, and enough scented lotions to supply an army of teen girls for a good decade. My greatest trial will still be learning to be moderate and wise when all around me is abundance and overabundance. And I will feel all glowy and gooey and warmy and fuzzy. Maybe even a little fizzy. With a cherry on top.

In the delightfulest [insert additional superlatives here] Christmas movie, Millions, the little protagonist receives regular visits from sundry Catholic saints (who turn out to be much funnier than you might expect). He is saddened to learn that the bag of money that literally fell on him from the sky was not sent by God so he could help the poor, but had been thrown off a train by bank robbers. When Saint Peter appears in his bedroom, the boy asks him if he can still use the money to help the poor even thought it isn't from God. Saint Peter answers indirectly by offering him the "real" story of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000: Jesus is offered a few fishes and a little bread by a small boy, and Jesus blesses them and hands them around to the crowd. However, as it turns out, the crowd wasn't really starving -- almost all of them had food hidden in their pockets, but had pretended they didn't have it so they wouldn't have to share with any of their less fortunate neighbors. But when they see the little boy offer his own food to them, their hearts are softened. When the basket of bread and fishes comes to them, they pretend to take some of the boy's food, but instead just take out their own food and begin to share with their neighbors so that everyone is fed and the basked remains full. And that, says Saint Peter, is how the miracle of the loaves and fishes was accomplished.

I believe that Jesus was more than just a pretty idea or an inspiring teacher. But the miracle could have happened that way, and in a way it would have been an even bigger miracle. A miracle that changes hearts is no small miracle, no matter how it's done.

I hope I will allow my heart to be changed in that way, for good, and even when I'm down on my luck. Not just because it's what I'm supposed to want at my most righteous millisecond in the midst of Christmastime charity fervor, but also because to be comfortable and healthy and safe and educated and still have a lot left over to help others is a luxury very very few in this world have. A luxury that feels as good as any other luxury there is.**

And I am a creature of luxury. Ooooh, yes.

Jeeves -- draw me my bath. With bubbles, please.

*No, this is NOT a hint, Dad. Really. I've seen them all like five times -- why would I need to own them? A framed portrait of Hugh and Stephen will do nicely.

**Including chocolate.


wynne said...

I loved Millions. Great movie.

And you know something? I'm trying to collect a bit of money for the folks who got so trashed by the flood around here (I would've had the post up today, but the morons at the bank didn't know how to set up a non-profit account--hopefully tomorrow). I'm just hoping that I can get a few people to donate...I'll donate my wee dollars in your name, how's that?

(But you're still getting a !@#@! Christmas card.)

D'Arcy said...

beautiful post Marie. I went to my first Christmas party last week, with my sister. She works at a high class salon and they always do a gift exchange. This year I talked her into buying a chicken at The card said "Clucky You! A chicken has been given in your name" and then I added, "Helping to change the world one chicken at a time." These chickens (and you can buy bees, cows, camels, sheep etc) are given to families in Africa. With a chicken they can eat eggs, sale, eggs, breed other chickens and more and more eggs and then eat it if they want! It is a great organization and a great gift and the lady basically got angry, threw it back in our faces and was literally upset. She wanted the Dancing Moose in Santa Hat!!!! So, my sister and I offered to change her the snowglobe we ended up with and we came home with the chicken!!

How's that for a great introduction to the new year. Not to mention we were mocked mercilessly for buying a chicken we will never see in the first place. She just kept saying "So, i don't even get a real chicken? I don't get anything? I don't get it!"

Yep, she didn't get it!

sharonsfriendjen said...

This was a lovely blog Marie! I think donating in someone's name is a WONDERFUL idea! I love that d'Arcy bought someone in Africa a chicken. (I am sorry the recipient was a snot about it.) I love that Wynne is opening an account for flood victims, I love that people add strangers to their list. Thanks for the uplifting blog and entries, I was feeling blue this year due to my spiritual indifference, and this has helped me put things into perspective.

Marie said...

Wynne -- Yes! Tell me where, and I'm there. I'll donate in your name. And then we both can donate in Harry Potter's name, and then he can eliminate poverty and disaster with one swish of his wand! But until then, good luck to you all. The pictures on the news are very disheartening.

D'Arcy -- Oh man, what do I say?? I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I guess I should say, "Dear readers, please consider the possible dangers of observing the Christmas spirit at Christmas. The author of this post accepts no liability for injuries you may sustain upon having your chartiy chicken thrown back in your face." But that was a great thing you & your sister did, and I say brava. (What's the plural of brava?) I got a catalog from Heifer International this year, and it sounds like such a great program, especially as they commit the recipient of the livestock to give two of its offspring to some other family in need, and so on. The gift that keeps on giving -- like the Cheese of the Month club, only better :)

Jen -- You are a doll, and if you need some cheering up then we need to get together soon. I will sing you Chrismas carols very loudly in the restaurant until you no longer feel spiritually indifferent and/or start flinging your mashed potatoes at me.

frances said...

i do love jeeves and wooster immensely as well (what ho there!) but i agree that a change of heart would be better. i think i feel like i have to force my heart to be changed somehow, when it occurs to me that the real trick is just leaving our hearts open to be changed by other people. a good new years resolution, i would say. happy christmas to you!

Hey, It's Ansley said...

Lovely post! Millions was such a great movie. I love to see more and more people thinking about the true meaning of Christmas and helping me remember it too. Plus it helps make it so much less stressful. Have a very Merry Christmas!

Princess Jess said...

I have not heard of Millions - is it new this year? (that would explain my lack of knowledge, but is not the only possible reason.) I'll have to add it to my Netflix list.

Thanks for this post - it was very insightful. I love the story of the miracle of the fishes and loaves. I truly believe that miracles are mostly a result of who is where when they are needed (or whose heart changes at the right time).

I recently was sent one of those letters to the Ensign or New Era from a Cambodian boy who had applied for a visa to study at BYU-Hawaii. During his interview the visa officer asked him to recite the Articles of Faith. Likely the officer was a Mormon who found that an effective way to verify sincerity, but this boy saw it as a miracle that he has memorized them on the advice of his brother, and was able to recite them when needed. Miracles abound. Truly.

Marie said...

Frances -- Yeah. It's so hard to accept that much of our spiritual work involves letting go and opening up rather than pursuing and grabbing hold. And it's harder, in its way, to let go. For me, anyway. Good resolution indeed.

Ansley -- It does de-stress things, doesn't it? All the other stresses become what they are -- optional.

Jess -- Millions is maybe two years old. You will love it. Just remember that when they poke fun at the LDS missionaries, they're poking fun at hypocrisy in general -- they only chose the LDS because we have the word "Saint" in our name and the little boy in the movie is obsessed with saints. Oh, and be sure to watch it with the subtitles on unless you're really good at understanding heavy northern English accents. :) I agree that miracles abound. You were a miracle for me -- I was so anxious about my first roommate experience in college and you and Talia and Danielle and the others were really a gift to me. I'm glad you're the same happy Jess, after all these years!