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Saturday, December 24, 2005

In the Spirit of NOT Giving...

In the spirit of 'Not' giving...
A New Orleans family of 50 plus, exiled to Texas, were expecting Christmas from my entire office. Well, I believed they were. When my family and I had decided to give our Christmas to this deserving family, who lost everything, we did it out of nothing other then true compassion. No strings attached, nothing to gain except the knowing it was necessary and the right thing to do, for us.

When my office, filled with 60 staff, decided to adopt my brother in-laws family from New Orleans for Christmas, I can't tell you how grateful and how elated I was. I felt hesitant and slightly concerned at first, because of the number of family members that would need a present. The events committee that spoke on behalf of the office met and agreed that they wanted and would do this. The committee, called the "Sunshine Club" is made up of a small group of staff that set the tone and plan all office events and projects by getting all staff involved in whatever they do. We pay a monthly nominal fee, so the committee has funds to buy things for each event or project.

Since the committee approached me and invited me to ask the family from New Orleans for their approval, I assumed that was a solid commitment to my brother in-laws family, for Christmas. Even before I called my sister, I repeatedly asked if they were sure about this decision and ticked off a few reasons that they may have wanted to consider and reconsider. Being in the office for 4 months, I really don't know all 60 of the staff, only in passing mostly. The committee said that everyone would be involved and that they knew all would want to do something for the family, with 60 staff people there were more than enough people to contribute. Expressing my sheer gratitude and feeling so blessed - these people really do care!

I hadn't witnessed too many people who really cared to do something, most people either didn't want to talk or think about what happened in the gulf coast or they felt that the people living in the gulf coast knew what they were getting into, so deal with it. I remember hurrying to get a check to a local church, in September, that was heading down to New Orleans and realized that it was not enough, but it was all I had to give at the time. I understood the dire and tragic scope of what had happened and was heart broken for the people, the pets, the livestock. Cognitively, I could grasp the necessity of quick and effective action in the region by the federal government. It was the only way that entire area of the gulf coast was going to completely recover and come back into the fold of our society, our country, as the contributors they once were.

Immediately investing in the city of New Orleans was paramount, Rebuilding the levees was critical, Helping the people help themselves with lost basic necessities -- Right Away, was a merciful and practical act. Four months later and countless acts of disinterest, suspicion, disrespect, apathy, blame, stalling and avoidance, the gulf coast still fights on behalf of their citizens, for more than the crumbs being tossed at them. Shameful elitism seems to be oozing out all over the place, growing as fast as the infamous black mold. Each time a cruel or apathetic word falls out of the mouth of anyone, I ponder their misplaced anger or defensiveness or judgment. Who are "they" really angry at, what is it "really" they are defending and how can they pass such "critical" judgment?

And sometimes silence or avoidance is a sign of deep sadness or despair, or worse -- utter hopelessness. Could this be connected to the realization that our country's fabric of democracy is frayed and paper thin or is it out of embarrassment that we - America - exposed to the world as a nation, that we left our people trapped and tortured within an American City? Or, is it a gnawing fear and a nagging doubt about our ability to survive, if something tragic happened in our own backyard? Strategically timed terror alerts and flu epidemics sure add the heavy layers of concern, who will be saved and who is dispensable? Not a thought most of us want to even ruminate over, when we know our attention is towards property tax increases, rent increases, food cost increases and every other increase that will tap our non-increasing paycheck or monthly social security check.

I don't know what to call the inaction, minimization and distraction of our nations print media, who have done too little in their duty to report daily happenings in the gulfcoast, especially the human side. The biggest catastrophe in our nation to date, a city of the United States 80% decimated, an exodus of thousands of southern citizens and the heart breaking way people died, then Google News search pops up sports scores and very few current stories about the people, recovery and rebuilding. I get the feeling that the gulf coast survivors are the newly coveted "whipping boy" group, secretly taking the place of welfare families, illegal aliens and teenage gangs, and oh, the rich. In a society of working class people, alas, we have to have someone to blame for things that directly hit us in the wallet. We don't thoroughly rationalize who is really at fault or responsible when we are threatened and our jobs disappear, our health insurance gone, our cars repossessed, our homes foreclosed on, eviction notice arrives and our way of life altered forever. We just don't.

Back to my story about the Christmas that almost wasn't. I was asked to rush to call my sister long distance, who in turn called her sister in-law in Texas, to ask for permission and to ask for a list of names, ages, clothing sizes, shoe size, and one gift wish of everyone in the family. My brother in laws sister gathered everything asked of her from family, now scattered across the state of Texas, and faxed the list of over 40 people to my office. I was asked to hurry and write a story about the family for the committee to post and e-mail out. Flyers for the holiday family donation for Christmas were taped up everywhere, eventually.

The family exiled to Texas, from New Orleans allowed us to come into their life at a time of ongoing heightened vulnerability, chaotic circumstance, while enduring the aftermath of the floods that took their life long homes, their friends, their neighbors, their communities, their jobs and their schools. If not for the office staffs assurance, solid commitment, excitement and a true desire to make the family from New Orleans feel that we do care about them, I wouldn't have believed my eyes and be witness to an utterly senseless lack of respect shown the family from New Orleans during this holiday of giving.

Seven - 7 people out of 60 staff people donated something, some new and some used. The seven were not all from the events committee, only one lady from the committee had followed through. My heart just sank like a rock. "We" had promised Christmas to the whole family and I was left with something that was not the holiday New Orleans family Christmas that my office had asked of, committed to and volunteered for. Thank God for my 24 year old daughter and her 'Power Shopping' skills, as she and I headed for the stores Tuesday 12/20/2005 evening to begin Christmas shopping for the family - 51 people. The parents had not asked for anything for themselves, so sadly subtracted them off the list of gifts that I had initially planned to do.

The children - 28 in number needed us to try to find the things on their list. There was a request for my brother in-laws Mom - from her daughter for jewelry. A grand mother and great grand mother, who survived all past hurricanes and floods, and now her legacy, her life's history and her keepsakes, gone. Family bibles, photographs dating back many, many decades over, letters and loving memories carefully preserved, gone. This her children's, children would have inherited for their children, significant history of times and events past. Because there had been no toys donated from my office, that were on the list, my daughter and I split the two page listing of family and scouted out the stores trying to fulfill the children's gift wishes.

My daughter and I had to substitute items because of cost. Some things we couldn't find at all. We did find books, clothing, girls and boys fun toys of all kinds, cologne, jewelry, shoes, dolls, trucks, cars and gift cards and more. If not for my loving and patient daughter I would have probably broke down crying from the sheer magnitude and sting of what had to be done. Instead she was an amazing source and together we made the experience fun. Plus she had to pull the reigns in on me a few times, I was going overboard to find more and more presents for the children.

Success when I finished the shopping Wednesday morning before going on to work. This New Orleans family, my brother in-laws family will have Christmas from my office. Carried all the bags into my office and began checking, cross checking, writing out cards to each family within the family, addressing all the gift cards and trying like heck to fit everything into 3 big boxes. The 7 ladies, their presents were so beautifully wrapped, but I couldn't wrap anything else because space was so limited and I had to take some of the toys out of their original boxes to get them into the packing boxes. One toy truck kept sounding off music. Imagine the postal worker trying to figure out where the music was coming from? Finally got that toy rigged to stay quiet, until that special child releases it's peppy beat with their tiny hand.

I ended up taking vacation hours, in my office cubicle, so that I could tackle this massive endeavor, determined to keep the promise to give Christmas to this family. Everyone had presents by the time I began packing everything up to take to the post office for express mail. I made sure that I put a Christmas card, from my entire office, in the box filled with Christmas gifts before I taped up the last box. One of the 7 ladies helped me to make sure the boxes were taped tightly. I ran to get the dolly and carted all to the car. Wouldn't you know, I had forgotten to put the check off list and the wrapping paper in the boxes! To my surprise everything arrived within a day of shipping to Texas, even though I had missed the cut off time.

For the family, everyone fulfilled their commitment and promise to the New Orleans family for Christmas, with a little help from my daughter and myself. The seven people - 7 wonderful ladies, I am truly touched by their commitment, they tried so hard. As for the rest of the people, I am feeling an array of shame for them. Every year I have been privileged to contribute or be part of adopting a family for the holiday and every year it has been a happy and fun activity knowing that the family will be overwhelmed with presents from people who care. This is the first time in my life I have witnessed the spirit of 'NOT' giving something, no matter what the person had in their pocket.

Unfortunately, my office is not the usual mainstream business, it is filled with people who serve the public in human services, county programs and state service workers. People who have met the public coming from the devastated gulfcoast. People who are face to face with those that have lost everything, have no money and are stressed by constant problems with the 'systems' inability to allow easy access to entitlement services and programs like unemployment and workers compensation. Some people have given up on those things they had a rightful place to apply for. Most cannot even get through the first phase of applying because the systems in place seems to be designed to repel rather than to invite. In my office, we see the results of the system every day.

Fortunately for my brother in-laws family of over 40 people, they will have a little something extra for Christmas and some special added thoughts and prayers for their well-being and healing, from my entire office. An act of kindness out of true compassion is a strong reminder that we have the ability to go far beyond just caring for human kind. We have the ability to make a difference, share a smile and build hope. A promise made, A promise kept. ~END~

12/21/2005 Presents Express Mailed - I rushed 3 big boxes to the post office today, filled with presents for an important group of people. Express mail cost less then I thought it would, a paltry $160.00. We gave our Christmas to this family, to show that we do care about them. And that we do understand what they have gone through and what they will face every sunrise forward. We care a lot!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that any daughter of any mother, would be extremely proud of the way you conducted yourself. You remembered what the spirit of Christmas really is, when you decided to care about someone other than yourself.

December 28, 2005 4:41 PM  

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