A Christmas Story Made in America

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Really, it was just three sentences posted on FB at 8:10 this past Monday night:

Dear Friends,
I know a woman who has had to set up housekeeping in a new home for her and her children. She hasn’t a single stick of furniture–not even beds for her kids–and a very modest income. If any of you have furniture you were considering getting rid of and would like to donate it to her, send me a message.

The main characters in the sad real-life story allowed me to solicit help on FB.  They were grateful for my offer, but maybe a little embarrassed to ask, to have to ask.

I closed my computer after writing the post, vowing that I would not get on FB again that night.  (I make that promise, and break it, a few times every night!)

But my phone was on and, amazingly, charged, and before long it started binging.  The texts and FB messages and comments came fast and furious late into the night and throughout the next day.  Here is a sampling.

At 8:24 PM, from one of those FB friends I barely know:  If she can wait until after the holidays, I have a side table that was a sewing machine table. It’s sturdy! I’ll go and look around in my storage area.  I also have some dishes and kitchen stuff.  Glad to help!”

8:30 PM from a fellow writer:  “Sandy, I have a twin bed and frame and a wing back chair.”

8:33PM:  “I have a brown love seat, a child’s desk, and an armoire you can have.”  This from someone I haven’t seen in a few years.

10:15 PM from a former student teacher: “I have stuff at my dad’s. Let me check what is there and I’ll send you a list.”

10:33 PM from BFF:  “I don’t have furniture, but I could shop at Goodwill for her.”

11:40 PM from a member of one of my writing groups:  “I have a kitchen table and four chairs.”

1:39 AM Tuesday from a former colleague: “I will buy what she needs. Call me.”

10:43 AM phone call from a Georgia number and the speaker has a lilting Indian accent:  “Sandy, I don’t know if you remember me (I did.  We served on the Women Writing for (a) Change Board five years ago), but I just got on Facebook and I don’t know if it’s too late but I have lots of stuff for the woman. A king-sized bed, dressers.  The problem is I’m moving to California tomorrow, so if they want it they have to come today.  I didn’t want to leave it in the house to attract vandals.  I was looking for someone who needed it.”

11:26 AM Tuesday from a newly minted mother who probably hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in three weeks:  “I just cleared a bunch of stuff out, so I don’t have any furniture, but I’m happy to help contribute financially to whatever you organize.”

12:28 PM Tuesday in response to the new mom: “Also happy to contribute financially if you want to set up a fund!”

4:37 PM Tuesday from a parent of a former student: “Dan I would be happy to help.  Let us know what is needed.”

In reviewing these offers, I noticed punctuation, not in that mean way of a red-pen-wielding English teacher I was, but as an interested student of human behavior.

This is what I noticed:  There wasn’t a single question.

Nobody asked about the woman’s race, religion, age, or marital status

No one asked if she was on Welfare or if she was an addict.

Not a single person asked if she was an immigrant, illegal or otherwise, from here or there.

The only question, one that was not stated but implied was, “How can I help?”

I can only surmise the motivation for such an outpouring:  Empathy.

All parents feel vulnerable.  They can imagine the desperation of a mom wanting to provide a good home for her children with limited resources.  They can imagine coming up empty at Christmas.  They can imagine the devastating circumstances that might lead to that situation.

There is an entertaining little video about empathy which points out that empathic statements rarely start with the words “at least.”

None of the respondents said, “At least she has a job.”  Or, “At least she has a roof over her head.

She’s not homeless.”  They didn’t try to minimize the person’s experience or give it a silver lining. Their actions said, “This sucks.  If I were in this situation, I know what I’d want and need.

This outpouring of help and abundance of goodness has given me such a lift this Christmas.  I am so grateful to have generous, open-hearted friends, and as a citizen of the world, I am thinking, “Yay, Us!”

I was so moved by a video clip of actor/singer Mandy Patinkin’s recent interview with Charlie Rose in which he discusses the Syrian refugee crisis.  He claims that if Americans met these desperate people, they would stop being afraid.  They would embrace the refugees, and they would help them. Then these Americans would “ . . . feel like Americans.  They’d feel like they’re supposed to be.”

I believe the generous donors that are helping my friend feel great about what they’re doing.  They feel like they, as Americans, are supposed to be.

May you be blessed this year and always by empathetic friends who will climb down into dark holes with you and help you dig out, friends who would give you a bed or dishes or couch if you needed one.  In short, I hope you have friends like mine.

Postscript:  My friend and her family have started to pick up the donated furniture. She already has two of the four beds she needs, as well as a few couches. She is humbled, touched, awed, and grateful for the kindness of strangers.

Postscript, 3/25/16  This letter was written by the woman who received the donations.

It has been 3 months now since my 3 children and I have moved into our new home.  It has been an emotional transition, one that I could not have prepared for or from which I could shield my children.  Because of your generosity, I was able to provide my children with a functional and furnished home.    Thanks to you, I have beds for my children, a table where we can share a meal, comfy seating where we watch movies and hang out together.  We have sheets and towels, dishes and pots and pans.  I have a home that I can call my own; a place that is comforting and above all else, safe.

I believe in miracles.  Although, I can’t say I ever thought I would receive one; that is, until you.  I now know that I have received a miracle, many of them!!!  I was recently reading about expecting miracles to happen in your life.  The author said “Miracles are instantaneous”.  They cannot be summoned but they come on their own,  usually at unlikely moments and to those who least expect them”.   Although this author never knew me,  I think she wrote those words for me.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect what you did for me.  You and your generosity are my miracles.

I thank you, my children thank you.  My life is forever changed.  You have taught me to be more giving, to help someone else in need, to be more like you by giving freely, no questions, no judgements, just to give.

Your humble, thankful friend.

Other posts related to Empathy:

Degrees of Separation

A Horse is Not a Dog

Other posts related to Christmas:

Oh, Tannenbaum

Turtle Soup for Christmas?

Norwegian Dinner:  It begins with a Saw

10 Things I’ve Learned as a 64-year Christmas Survivor

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11 Comments

  1. This lifted my heart as it will for all who read it. I will get you the set of dishes tomorrow.

    • I also have a large set of dishes that includes various serving pieces , casserole pans, etc. Teri, could this set supplement your dishes? There are at least 12 plates, and lots of other pieces.

      I also have a few decorative plates that might lift her spirits.

      Sandy, I have a comforter set for a twin bed., as well as for a queen bed. What about books and toys for the kiddos? When I first saw post, I did not think I had anything but now several things have come to mind., such as a bookcase and a small lamp table.

  2. I didn’t see your original FB post, but please let me know the remaining needs and I will see what I have!

  3. So glad so many came through with donations. I missed your original post, so please send-out an updated notice of anything else needed. We would love to contribute.

  4. Not the first time you have moved me to tears, Sandy.

  5. Sandy, just saying this today, day after Christmas, and it is such an inspiration. As you say, no questions asked, just offers made. I have a very lightly used comforter with beautiful tulip floral duvet cover, queen size to offer. You are the bridge to the kind of connection Mandy Patinkin tells us create empathy. Thank you!!!

  6. I echo all sentiments–this was so beautiful and heartwarming. And of course, I have to give credit where credit is due. You are the one who started this outpouring of generosity by making the need known. And you would…:) Well done!

  7. What else does she need? How old are her children? I have resources.

  8. I confess and am sorry that I am just reading this message for the first time. Is there anything that this family has not received, and still needs?

  9. I have some kitchen canisters that i could donate. What else does she need?

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Sandy Lingo

Life itself is the proper binge.  - Julia Child

A writing friend said that when she reads my writing, she always wants a second helping.

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