“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
I have had some of my best holiday experiences at some of the worst times in my life.
The first time, I was thirteen years-old. It took a few more similar experiences over the years for me to trust that it was actually OK to feel good when my circumstances would dictate otherwise, but I’ll never forget the first time it happened:
It was the first Christmas after my father had left us, and I was the oldest sibling, trying to hold things together for my mother, brother, and sister.
I was as lost as a human being can possibly be at that age, and going into the holidays all I wanted to do was crawl into a cave until January. I was pretty sure all of the negative events had something to do with me, that somehow I was to blame. I was also pretty sure everyone around us knew it was my fault.
Alex Schreer was my best friend, and next door neighbor.
His father, Sid, had always kind of frightened me a little. Sid was a serious man, had fought in “the war” as a gunner on a B-52, and didn’t put up with any grief from any of us. One day I was hanging around outside our garage. Sid came out of his front door and noticed me standing there. He called me over, and I thought he was going to point out some area where I was failing as the man of the house.
Instead, he put his arm around my shoulder, sat me down next to him, and told me a story.
He told me that in the Jewish community there was a sentiment that our lives were like books full of blank pages, and that every day we got to write the story of our lives on a new page. He told me that I had the chance to write my own story every day, and that I was responsible for how the story went. He gave me hope that I had some control over my life, that I wasn’t “bad,” and that the holidays were really just blank pages in my book waiting for me to write my own story.
I’d love to say it was a Christmas (or Hanukkah) miracle, and that my family miraculously recovered. We didn’t, but thanks to Sid Schreer, I wasn’t lost anymore. He saw a kid who needed a kind word, and a little hope, and he gave them to me.
What I remember most about that Christmas was that I woke up every morning knowing that I had some say in the way things were going to go, and life was going to be life, but I didn’t have to let it ruin my outlook.
That was one of my best Christmas seasons ever, and it came at the worst of times. Ever since, I have done my best around the holidays to remember Sid by keeping my eyes open for that one kid who may be feeling totally lost and alone, and if we cross paths, I tell them the story Sid told me.
My Christmas Presence tip for today is that if you look closely enough you might find a kid just like me in your own neighborhood. Maybe you have a story for them?