It’s Christmas morning. The snow is falling generously and brilliantly. I’m a little sleepy, but I’m excited, and getting ready for the outreach that’s going to take place, soon enough. I’m not sure what to expect, but I am very happy and content, because my parents are going to join me, as well as one of my friends.
The next thing I know, I am at the alley where we prepare to do the outreach. I’m feeling nervous, because I know that I’m going to be a squad leader and lead a group in the middle of a storm, but I also feel excited. Even though it is snowing and I am very cold, I am looking forward to this like no other. I truly can’t wait!
We begin the outreach. At first there is some confusion on what it is we are doing, but slowly we are able to work out the kinks. At first, we don’t see anybody, and people are wondering why we aren’t helping anybody. However, once we organize the group better, we are able to do remarkable work. We reach out to many people, giving them various supplies for the winter season, such as coats and gloves and warm hats, and it is clear to me why we do our work this way: The act of outreach is metaphorical for closing the gaps and building bridges in the community: it is a gesture of kindness and open-heartedness. The very act of outreach shows the desire to want to connect with others, people who are many times not appreciated or loved by society. The act of outreach is especially important on a day like Christmas, where people are giving of themselves, where it is a day of giving and love and compassion. Indeed, being able to directly engage with the homeless population brings tremendous joy to me, because there are no barriers, it is just all of us together, making connections and spending time with each other.
We head over to one of the shelters, and I am exceedingly pleased with one individual man and his kindness. He is so grateful for us and our work, that he literally goes around hugging everybody, and giving them the time of day. I pounce on this opportunity to get this free hug, and I feel very, very touched and warm on the winter street. Connecting with this man makes me very happy, and I wish him well. I watch as we continue to interact with the people we serve, and I am very pleased at what I see, in terms of the engagement and compassion, and restoring dignity.
What is the winter street? Well, I see it as something symbolic. When we think of winter, we either think of desolation and the biting, stinging, unforgiving cold, or we think of renewal and beauty, purity. The winter street, I believe, is paved with clean, beautiful snow, where we are all given second chances and the opportunity to care for each other. I experience this directly as I walk on snowy ground, snowy streets, out in the city to serve.
As I continue to do the outreach, I feel very content and happy. I say Merry Christmas to many people, and despite their circumstances, everyone seems to be in good spirits, and they tell me Merry Christmas back, and this fills me with joy. I meet many people who are grateful for what we at Legacy Initiative have to offer, and there is one particular man who opens up to me, and I find him very sincere and open, and he tells me how grateful he is that we are out. These are the kinds of experiences I need to further humble me. These are the kinds of experiences I need, in general, to make me a better person.
In my life, I am trying to escape at all costs feelings of entitlement. I always try to have a humble attitude, and appreciate what I have. Doing this outreach continues to reinforce a feeling of deep gratitude, sincerity, and authenticity within me, that is really important to me. I find it very meaningful. I have always done my best to escape feelings of entitlement, but the more that I do this kind of work, the more that I realize, despite myself, how much I am taking for granted, and the things that I can do better, to care more, to be more compassionate, and to not feel, ever, entitled. I think this started back when I went to a homeless vigil not too long ago, and this feeling has stuck with me ever since, in a way that I find very important, and will continue to feel, and appreciate. It is a feeling that I will continue to nurture, doing these wonderful things to appreciate and understand how much I truly have and have to give. And what better day to realize all of this, than on Christmas morning, a day of giving and gratitude?
Unfortunately, as far as I heard at least, we didn’t have much of a chance to interact with the kids and give them toys and other Christmas gifts. This was an oversight, I believe, but it did not change the spirit that was in the air. Even though it was unfair that we were not able to hand out the gifts to the children due to certain bureaucratic policies in place, and the children were not able to have great and meaningful interactions with other people, it is clear that we were all on the white street, and we were all being renewed, we were all being purified. You can’t ask for anything more, and I feel extremely grateful and humbled that the children were at least aware that we were there, and that they were going to receive gifts, just for them, just for being special and beautiful.
I received some wonderful feedback from a volunteer. She shared her story. She had a little hat for a girl, and she spent the entire time trying to find a girl that could take this hat. Many adults wanted the hat, but this particular volunteer was set on giving the hat to a little girl. Well, this volunteer finally found someone. The little girl had her head bowed, as if she was sad, but this volunteer interacted with this girl in a very beautiful and meaningful way, and was able to take the hat with much gratitude. This was a pivotal moment for the volunteer, because she felt very happy that she was able to serve another individual, especially a little girl who felt sad.
Dostoevsky, the great nineteenth century Russian novelist, has a terrific short story. It is a Christmas story, and it is called “The Beggar Boy at Christ’s Christmas Tree.” The purpose of the story is to remind us what the holiday season is about, what it means to give of ourselves to others. The story is sad, as it tells the story of a homeless orphan boy who is dismissed by society, forgotten and abandoned, forced to live in the winter, where his hands and feet get cold and red, and he dies as a consequence of being cast out into the winter with no food and shelter: But in the story, he is welcomed to Christ’s Christmas tree, where everyone, including children just like him, is welcome. I think of the story as I reminisce on this wonderful experience doing outreach. I think about the story, because that is what it should be about: Everybody is welcome, and we are a community, and we give of ourselves to each other. It is my hope that no one will ever have to live the fate of the homeless orphan boy in the story by Dostoevsky. It is my hope that by serving others, we give them the opportunity to feel alive, and we share with them our common humanity. This to me is the best gift that I think anyone can ever receive: knowing that we are all together, and that we will live this life together, and that no one will ever be forgotten.
We all walk the winter street together.
(Photo Credits to Leo Chan and The Legacy Initiative)