97: A New Tradition

97: A New Tradition

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness

A New Tradition

Mankind is a great, an immense, family. This is proved by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas.

~Pope John XXIII

As I walked into the Fifth Street Bar and Grill my aunt stood up from a table in the corner, beside a window that spilled winter sunlight.

As usual, it had taken weeks to agree on a time for our semi-annual lunch. She worked as a psychologist and ran her own bustling private practice, and she also owned a couple of vacation properties that she always seemed to be in the process of selling, renting or redecorating. I hadn’t seen her in months.

“Hi,” I exclaimed. “You look great.” And she did: she wore her dark, straight hair down to her lower back in glimmering waves. An assortment of fashionable jewelry sparkled on her skin. While we hugged, I worried that I might wrinkle the fabric of her tailored white blouse, which smelled of Chanel No. 5.

“So it’s been a while! How are you? You must be almost done with your classes,” she said in a rush of enthusiasm as we sat down.

“Yes, this is my last semester.”

We talked for a while about my imminent graduation from university, and then I asked her about her properties. Her eyes narrowed and she became even more animated, waving her hand through the air as she talked so her gold bracelet caught the light. Apparently, she had set her sights on a condo in an exclusive new development beside a golf course, where prices were sky-high. It was the epitome of luxury.

“We’re just waiting to hear back about our offer,” she said.

“Wow.”

“Yes, fingers crossed.”

My aunt loved everything about real estate and luxury living. She’d worked hard to earn her wealth, and I admired her cutthroat attitude to business. I felt as if some of her adrenaline rubbed off on me as she regaled me with stories about her investment successes. I’d even begun looking at condos for myself — albeit cheap ones — and she was the first person I wanted to tell if I ever bought my own place.

On that sparkling, winter day we had an even more successful lunch than usual. I measured success by whether or not she ordered tea or dessert so we could continue to chat. She ordered both, and we were on our second cup of Earl Grey when she proposed a new idea.

“I wonder if maybe… this has been so much fun, maybe you wanted to carry on and do something else together?” she asked.

“Sure, that’d be fun.”

“Okay, great.” She paused, tapped a French-tipped fingernail against her lips. “To tell the truth, I was thinking it might help us get into the holiday spirit and, well, I wonder if maybe we could start a new tradition.”

“What?” I asked, suddenly full of anticipation. From her face, I could tell she felt excited — and if she was excited, it meant there must be at least some degree of risk involved in her plan.

“I have this one-hundred-dollar bill burning a hole in my pocket, and I was thinking maybe we could find a homeless person and give it to him or her.”

I couldn’t have been more shocked if she’d told me she wanted to go swimming in the restaurant’s fish tank.

I swallowed down a gulp of tea and tried not to look as surprised as I felt. It’s not that I’d thought she was uncharitable — although we’d never talked about charity before. Mostly I was surprised that she either didn’t know, or didn’t care, that giving money directly to a homeless person in our city was thought by some people to be less-than-ideal because the money, some said, could be swiftly exchanged for booze or drugs.

“Sure,” I said. “I think that’s a great idea. It’s very generous of you.”

“I was thinking that we could walk around until we find somebody who we really want to give it to. And say ‘Happy Holidays.’ What do you think?”

“Yes, that sounds good.”

“Okay.” She grinned. “And maybe we can do this again next year. It could be our holiday tradition.”

“Absolutely.”

Off we went, squinting in the harsh winter light on the main street of downtown and searching for someone who appeared most in need of my aunt’s one hundred dollars. As we walked, she continued to talk in rushed, excited tones as she had done during lunch. Her boots made a staccato clicking sound along the sidewalk. I was becoming tired just trying to keep up with her: her quick, constantly churning mind and her fast walking were almost too much for me. Luckily she found her prospect almost immediately. The fabric of his coat had faded to a pale, greyish green. I saw dirt on his cheeks and vagueness in his eyes as we approached. He was slouched against a building, and parts of his scalp showed through his white hair.

I lingered a step behind my aunt as she neared him, strutting in the brisk no-nonsense way of hers and smiling widely.

“Hello.” She rustled in her purse, producing the one-hundred-dollar bill. She held it out toward him. “Here, I want you to have this. Happy Holidays.”

He extended a rough hand and hesitated, staring at the money. Then he raised his face to look at her. She nodded encouragingly.

Shaking, he folded his fingers around the bill. His gaze was steady as he looked at my aunt, eyes filling with a youthful kind of light.

“Miss, thank you.” He took her hand in his, and kissed it once. I smiled at them both, but I wasn’t involved in this interaction: it was private, and existed only for the two of them.

On the walk back to the car, my aunt remained silent for a while. Her steps were slower.

“He seemed happy, didn’t he?” she said thoughtfully.

“Yes, he did,” I agreed. “You made his day.”

I felt that I’d just witnessed something spectacular, but I couldn’t quite define why.

It wasn’t until later that I realized: not only did the man look genuinely joyful when he accepted the money — which in my mind made the event worth it no matter how he invested that bill — but I had the impression he had given my aunt a gift as well.

And the fleeting, magical exchange they shared had an effect on me, too: I learned that the good energy of any gift can spread outward, touching those who are simply spectators and creating a memory that sticks and shines for years. Never again will I even consider believing that certain forms of giving are “lesser” than others.

~Jessica Lampard

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