A Holiday Story

Christmas, or  rather the Holiday season, is  here. I know. I hate to say it. I hate to think it. I’m definitely not ready for it. Rather, my finances aren’t ready for it. A week off to spend with my family and friends… THAT  I am most certainly ready for.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about something that happened a few years ago, around this time of year. I was still in University at the time and was out shopping for gifts for my family and friends; money was very tight (not so different from now). As is the norm in Montreal, I was being asked for money on the street, from the homeless, from charity drives, from animals (ok, not so much from animals – though I think there was that table with the picture of the puppies trying to raise awareness for puppy mills… definitely gave money to that).

I gave the customary dollars and cents from my pocket to the men (and women) dressed up as Santa Claus – every time I passed one, I’d feel bad for not putting money in; they are on every corner, of every street and I really only have so much cash on me at any given time! But I digress.

Since all of my money was either spent or given away, I was heading to the bank to take out some money for reasons I no longer remember. On my way in, a man approached me – not the typical, smelly homeless person that graces the streets of Montreal, but a clean, reasonably dressed man who seemed to be down on his luck. He told me about how he was living in a shelter, his children didn’t talk to him very often, he had to buy the necessities – toothpaste, soap, etc. Could I spare him some change?

Feeling a bit guilty, I apologized – have no cash on me, sorry (take it up with the Santa Claus two blocks back that way) – and entered the bank. When I came out, he spotted me again and asked “do you have any change now?”

Well… uh.

Instinctively, I wanted to pull away, say sorry ‘bub, but in typical Grinch fashion, I remembered what season it was and my heart grew five sizes… ok, it didn’t really… I highly doubt I’d be here now if that were true. And, really, if you think about it, there shouldn’t be a season for giving – it should be all year ’round! However, in a twist of things, if I gave all year ’round, I’d probably be on the street, begging for food… again, I digress.

We went to the nearest pharmacy and I told him I’d pay for the things he needed, as long as it was under $20 (because that’s all the money I had without dipping into my Christmas presents budget). He picked out his choice items and when the cashier rang it up, the bill exceeded $20… I don’t remember by how much. What I do remember is the quasi-guilty and almost fearful look on the man’s face when he looked at the amount and then glanced at me like I was going to back out or get mad.

*shrugs* I paid.

It was the best decision I have ever made and by far the best gift I have ever given at Christmas time.

I will always remember that man because of how thankful he was for this small act of kindness; he pulled out his pocket of quarters and loonies, offering to buy me a coffee! (unfortunately, I was running late for a previous engagement… probably class… and didn’t take him up on that) I left him, tears in his eyes, and went on my merry way feeling, well, really happy.

Since then, I have tried to actively looked for those down and out sorts who don’t necessarily want money… they want the basic necessities, like toothpaste. And Christmas cards. I admit right now, I’m not that good at finding them… I think life and self get in the way; but I do try to look for these people all year ’round. Why? Because I don’t like that I choose not to give money to the poor on the street. I don’t like the skepticism I feel when I see people sitting with their little cardboard signs or shoving their empty Styrofoam cups in my face as I walk down the street. The person I want to be is the one that helps everyone she can, in any way she can. That might be altruistic and, sadly, impossible – but I can desire to be that person, can’t I?

Maybe, when I win the lottery, I’ll give change to every homeless person I see.

But for now, I’ll just try to budget in an extra $20 to spend on someone who needs it more than I do. And you know what? I challenge everyone to do the same. Trust me, you’ll feel good, they’ll feel good, there will be good feelings all around. Really, what other feeling would we rather have?

Have you had a similar experience? Do you have a holiday story you will never forget? I’d love to hear!