The woman who lived in the apartment behind ours was raising three kids by herself, two boys who were about my age, around thirteen, and their younger sister. She had married an American soldier who brought her to America, and not too many years later, he left her with their three children. I don’t remember ever seeing him come around the apartment complex. This woman didn’t speak English well, and she was a single mother, working in a kitchen, and doing her best to take care of her kids. The younger boy, my friend, told me they weren’t celebrating Christmas because his Mom couldn’t afford presents.
At the time, my Mom was raising four kids by herself. She had recently lost her job when her employer lost his franchise, and she and her business partner started their own business in the middle of a recession. They were bootstrapping a company to take care of their kids.
If you have always been poor, you don’t know you are poor. Because everyone around you is also poor, you have nothing against which to measure your circumstances. The unconditional love of a mother, what is arguably the most powerful force on earth, made it so that I never felt like I was missing anything. We always had Christmas, and there were always gifts under the tree. My siblings and I were too young to recognize the sacrifice she must have made to give us Christmas.
I told my Mom about our neighbors, and that wasn’t something she was willing to accept. She gave me money on Christmas Eve to go to the only open store, Radio Shack, to buy them presents. She went and bought them food, and we put everything in a big trash bag and left it in front of their door. Not wanting the woman to feel any sense of shame or obligation, the gifts and food were delivered without any indication of who had provided them. I asked my Mom how she paid for the gifts, and she told me she had to use a credit card.
On this Christmas Eve, surrounded by my family, I am reminded of the power of love, especially when it is manifested as an act of compassion. Know that the gifts you receive can never equal the gifts you give, especially those you give to those in need.
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