I am concentrating today on all the good that people do. And on all the good people. I am leaving behind my road rage, and why is life so unfair rage, and why don’t we learn from history rage, and my escalating fear for the human race.
I am, in the spirit of Christmas, focusing on the positive.
My uncle told me a story last week. He’s 89 and lives in Florida, but lived on Windsor Street in Cambridge when he was a boy. He grew up during the Great Depression. His family, his mother and two brothers, were dirt poor. They were hungry all the time.
My uncle could have talked about any of these things or about the father who abandoned them or about his incredible bad luck at being born during such hard times.
But the stories he shared are joyful. “Our landlady lived upstairs. Sometimes she’d give us food. She’d make extra and bring it down. She was good to us. One winter morning, she saw the three of us heading off to school with newspaper stuffed into the holes of our shoes. We had more holes than shoe leather. That afternoon when we came home there, in our kitchen, were three pair of shoes.”
He told, too, about going to the movies on the rare occasions he had four pennies for a ticket. It was an all-day thing, Saturday afternoons at the Inman Square Theater. Two cartoons, a movie, another cartoon, a newsreel, then the main feature. Kids would be lined up around the block, he said. But sometimes they’d be short a penny or two.
“I remember the owner standing outside the theater dressed in a suit and tie. He always had a pocket full of pennies. If a kid got to the ticket booth and had only two or three cents, he’d pat him on the shoulder and give him the rest. He made a lot of kids happy.”
A man handing out pennies and a landlord’s gift of shoes do not make headlines. But they made a big impact on my uncle. They made him happy, not just then but now. And even more important? They made a difference in how he perceives his life.
My friend, Jill, sends greeting cards. I’ve been thinking of you, sorry for your loss, hang in there cards. Plus, she phones to see how people are. Sometimes it’s the only call that person gets all day.
Small kindnesses make a difference. Jill makes a difference. So many people do.
They volunteer. They fund-raise. They bake, walk, run, bike, drive, knit, sew, wrap, cook, deliver, visit, sing, dance. (That means you, Deb Connolly!) They show up and cheer people up. They keep families together.
Nearly 30 years ago, Jim and Terry Orcutt were in their 40s, their kids grown. After work one night they watched a made-for-TV movie about a woman who lost custody of her daughter because she didn’t have a place to live. The Orcutts had a place, not big, but a roof over their heads. They even had an extra bedroom. If they had known ...
They prayed. What could they do? The next day they went into work and posted fliers asking for donations of clothes and items for people in need. At first they stored what they collected in their house. Then in a garage. Then a warehouse. Now, My Brother’s Keeper serves 12,000 people at Christmas alone. Mostly with volunteers. Thousands of volunteers, each of them making a difference.
There are good people in this world quietly spreading joy.
I tell myself this when no one will let me out of my driveway. Or merge at the Braintree split. I sputter and curse, of course. But then I remember my uncle’s face as he talked about the landlord upstairs and the theater owner with the pocket full of pennies. And in the spirit of Christmas I give thanks for all the good and caring people who live the essence of Christmas every day.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at email@example.com.