I remember one of my earliest Christmas seasons at my place of work where I am the grant writer for a soup kitchen, food pantry, assisted living, and community outreach programs. My cubical office which faces the Main Street is situated in such a way that I can hear people talking outside at the call-box at the front of the building. With my office door open, I can also hear my co-workers talking to the people at the call box from their offices.
I was supposed to be concentrating on my work, but my thoughts kept drifting to what seemed to be an insurmountable list of things I needed to buy and do before Christmas. I had to find the right gifts for people, had to plan a big meal with fussy eaters, and deal with idiot relatives who mouth off when they drank too much.
“Yes?” the squawky voice of my co-worker, a Sister startled me from my dysfunctional daydream. She was two doors down the hall talking to a man who had just rung at the box outside.
“Ma’am, I was just released from prison and I need a toothbrush,” the burly voice beseeched. That should be no big deal, I thought. We just received literally hundreds of them during our recent toiletry drive, we could spare one. To my shock, the nun said, “I am sorry sir; I only give out toiletry bags on Tuesdays.”
What?! It was Thursday, but this didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t want to go against my co-worker, but I just could not see not making an exception for this man. I jumped out of my seat and ran down the stairs. I pulled opened the door to the large dark man slightly hunched from the cold. He was wearing a coat but was blowing into his bare hands to keep them warm.
“Sir, why don’t you wait in the dining room and I’ll get you a toothbrush.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” he said. I ran back up the stairs slipping past the sister’s door and up to the third floor where we kept the toiletries. I stood before huge grey bins and plucked a boxed toothbrush. This man has nothing, I thought as I stuffed the toothbrush a nearby Ziploc baggie. I added tube of toothpaste, deodorant, and shampoo. Our mission is to help those in need, I thought, justifying the stuffed bag. Remembering his cold hands, I picked up a pair of large gloves from the shelf of recent donations. I didn’t want to get caught with this contraband so I stuffed the loot in the large pockets of my sweater.
I met the man in the empty soup kitchen dining room; it was cleared out after lunch hour. “Here you are, Merry Christmas,” I said, taking a step towards him looking into his dark brown eyes. His cold hand brushed mine as I handed him the packet. “Oh, the gloves, too,” I said, pulling them out from my sweater pocket.
All of a sudden this man began showering me with a profound and holy gift. “God bless you, ma’am. God bless you and your family,” he bowed towards me. “God, Bless You.” My being tingled in his warm glow and my heart beat wildly, flooding me with spirit. Here I thought I was to giving him, this needy man, just out of jail, a simple toothbrush kit and a pair of gloves, but he gave me something greater.
Teary-eyed, I floated up the stairs and back into my office. While I was away from my desk, my boss had laid a white envelope across my keyboard. I opened my Christmas card and two sizable green bills spilled out. I burst into tears.