Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. Norman Vincent PealeLast night volunteers came in to interview clients for the Christmas WishList. One of the volunteers is a businessman, an executive from an oil company. It's the second year in a row he's come in to interview. The second year he's left feeling humbled. Blessed. Calm.
I watched him as clients approached the table where he sat. He'd stand up. Put out his right hand. Grasp the clients hand in both of his and say, "Hi. I'm George. How ya’ doing?"
He was warm. Welcoming. Open. He'd sit back down and invite the client to take the chair on the other side of the table. To complete the interview, George had a sheet with a set of questions on it. The objective was to invite the client to tell a bit of their story, about how long they'd been at the shelter. How long they'd been homeless. What caused their homelessness. What stresses them, what gives them hope and then to invite the client to list off one thing he/she wanted for Christmas.
I watched the clients as they talked to George. They'd lean forward. The tension in their shoulders would ease. They'd relax their bodies and talk. And talk. And talk. For some people, this could be the first time in a long time that someone simply listened to them. Heard them. It could be the first time in a long time that a 'regular' guy asked their name and used it in a sentence in a friendly way, no expletive attached.
When clients got up to leave George's table, he shook their hand in farewell. They always left with a smile on their faces. Their step was lighter. They stood taller.
The night before, both my daughters had come in to volunteer with a couple of their friends. At one point, I watched Alexis talking with an older man. Grandfatherly. When he got up to leave, she stood up, walked around the table and gave him a hug. The smile that appeared on his face could have lit up the room. "That's what I really wanted for Christmas but didn't say," he said. "A hug."
It was a beautiful moment. Small. Quiet. Hearfelt. A small moment in an otherwise busy world. A moment to cherish for having witnessed its beauty.
Earlier, one of the staff had come to me with a request for a client who has lived at the shelter for two years. "He's a good guy," the staff member told me. "He's really struggling to get his life back in order. Hasn't seen his kids in two years. Desperately wants to get back to the east coast to see them for Christmas. Is there any way we can help him? I'd be willing to put some money towards his ticket. Is there any way his WishList could ask for contributions?"
As I was collecting the volunteers at the end of the evening, I stopped on one of the sleeping floors to let the volunteer know we were finishing up. She was in the office with a client and one of the staff. The client saw me and called me in. "I'm filling out the form for someone else," he told me. "He'd never do it himself. He's always doing for others but would never ask for anything for himself. Is that okay?"
"What a beautiful gesture," I replied.
The magic of Christmas.
Hearts opening up to strangers. Stories told that connect us in the human condition. People comforted by the attention of a stranger. By a handshake, a hug, a concerned friend. Staff wanting to help out a client. Clients wanting to help out eachother.
This is the real Christmas.