95: No Gifts for Christmas

95: No Gifts for Christmas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

No Gifts for Christmas

Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.

~Scott Adams

My first husband, Rick, was born with asthma and suffered many severe attacks as a child. But when we married he was in a good, healthy cycle, seemingly hale and simply happy to be thriving. As asthma goes though, another cycle came around resulting in many trips to the emergency room where I often feared the outcome. It was a roller coaster at times, but when specialists controlled the medications and oxygen was in place, he seemed to flourish and be full of jokes.

If only he could have felt like that every day. After a few years of missed time from work, and more frequent trips to the hospital, his employer asked that he step away from his job. They knew the dusty workplace wasn’t making his life any easier, and of course, they needed an employee who could be there for every shift. We didn’t panic, but we did struggle.

With Rick living on a disability pension and taking computer courses to learn a new career, we didn’t have much. But we believed that all things happen for a reason, and perhaps this change would be the best thing for his health.

When Christmas came along we needed a strict financial plan to help make ends meet. We began shopping earlier than usual and got as much as we could for our loved ones. We stocked up on groceries to make a special dinner. And lastly, we agreed to not buy gifts for each other unless there was money left over. We weren’t the first couple to fall on hard times, and we wouldn’t be the last. But Christmas was our favourite holiday and we did feel disappointed to be in that position.

As the big day drew near we finally had our gifts, our food and a small turkey for our Christmas dinner. There was just enough left over for us to get each other something small to put under the tree. We’d both worked hard at sticking to our budget. We were as excited as kids again to know our sacrifices had paid off and our plan was finally coming together.

On December 23rd we went off separately to buy something special for each other. Relying on city buses to get us to our respective shopping spots, I went downtown and Rick went to the mall. I knew exactly what I was after, and was home soon enough to wrap my gift and get it under the tree before my hubby returned. But as the time passed and he did not return, I began to worry. Then the phone rang.

It was frightening to hear my husband’s asthmatic rasp on the other end. He was so worked up he could hardly speak. Then a policeman came on the line to explain how my husband’s shopping trip had turned into a mugging! When Rick had gone down a hallway to use the restroom he was poked from behind by a knife and his wallet demanded. He begged the man not to take what little he had because it was for the gift he planned to get me. But the guy ripped the wallet from his pocket and took off running through the mall.

Undaunted, Rick took chase. He couldn’t bear to see the money we’d struggled so hard for taken without a fight. But the asthma prevented him from getting very far, and soon some bystanders took up the pursuit. They followed as the thief raced out the exit toward the field behind the mall. While running through some bushes, the mugger took the bills from the wallet and threw it to the ground. The good Samaritans returned the billfold to Rick as he panted and gasped on a bench outside a store. Then they called the police. All his identification cards were intact. The only thing taken was the cash.

I tried my best to reassure him that the only Christmas gift I needed was for him to be safe and unscathed from this ordeal. The outcome could have been much worse. He saw and felt the knife the robber had used to threaten him. It was a boon that all we lost was the cash. But deep inside, for both of us, it was more than just the money. It was the fruition of our personal commitment and struggles.

As we considered the events, we realized we weren’t the only ones feeling needy this Christmas. We began to wonder who the thief might have been — a struggling single parent, an unemployed man with a family, or even a homeless person. With that we counted our blessings and committed ourselves to making our own Christmas as warm and joyful as possible. We had a roof over our heads, groceries in our cupboards and family with whom we would celebrate.

On Christmas Eve my sister and a few friends gathered in our living room to enjoy the lights and music we all loved to share. Rick had to retell his story a few times with each new person who arrived. But the tale always ended with our true gratitude that he came home safely, and we still had each other and our loved ones adding to this special night.

Another knock came on the door, and when I opened it a total stranger stood on the porch. A young woman asked if I was Lea Ellen, and when I said I was, she handed me an envelope and wished me a very merry Christmas. Off she went back to a car where others were waiting. They were gone before I could see who it was. Not sure what to expect, I opened it to find a card containing some cash — more in fact than had been taken from Rick, and a note wishing us the very best. I was flabbergasted! Who was it? Why would they do this for us? How did they know?

It wasn’t until Christmas Day that we learned our benefactors had been gathered together by a neighbour of my sister. She had mentioned Rick’s encounter at the mall to her friends and family, and word had spread fast. These fine ladies decided if they each gave a little it would quickly add up to cover the lost money. And indeed it did!

These two life-changing events had both occurred in less than forty-eight hours, and we became overwhelmed with all the mixed feelings. We’d had such a scare and loss one day, followed by our own mini-Christmas miracle the next! When something like this happens you read about it and think it’s only going to happen to “the other guy.” And when a selfless act of giving occurs, that, too, rarely hits so close to home. I decided to write a letter to the editor of our local newspaper, and thank our benefactors publicly. Hopefully, they would recognize how not only had they helped us with the money, they had also redeemed our faith in people. I wanted to reassure our friends and neighbours in town that the spirit of Christmas was still very much alive right here where we all lived, and most especially in the hearts of those who gave Rick and me the true gift of Christmas.

~Lea Ellen Yarmill Reburn

Barrie, Ontario

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