Look, I really do not want to delve into many details here. But this is a story that combines the love and the irony of “The Gift Of The Magi” with the magic of the “pay it forward” notion. The convergence of those three things on a single night compels me to write what I can.
Frankly, this is blowing me away. What I learned a few nights ago has made my Christmas. It has made my year. It has made real my life and the lives of those who came before me. And what I have learned has suddenly assured me of the promise of those who will follow with the same learned lessons that delivered us to this eternal life. Those who follow will learn and teach as well and will certainly also live for eternities.
Look, I have tried all my life, I think, to help other folks. I believe that. And I guess that if I did actually help some folks along the way, my agenda really didn’t matter to them. But for decades, I mostly did what I did to exhibit my own self worth. It felt good to help. Whatever I did throughout all those years was likely done only to make myself feel better about me.
It took many years with my most important friend. Through her battles with me, she fought the war for me. She saw me through every moment of my selfish selflessness. And she fought like hell to make me understand.
Well, I finally did get it. It took a road trip with her and an Interstate rest area stop to get through this hard and selfish heart of mine. As we were pulling away from that rest area that night, a young couple in a car near us pulled along side and asked us to stop. They asked for a few dollars to help them on their trip. My friend and I had little money to complete our own trip, so I said, “I am sorry, but we can’t…”
My friend interrupted me as she reached into my pocket and pulled out what cash I had.
“Here’s twenty dollars,” she told the young couple as she reached across me to hand money to those two.
Those kids were so grateful for the small amount of money. They thanked me and asked for my address so they could pay me back. And I responded in my usual feel-good and selfish manner.
“Hey look,” I said. “You might see me in the same situation one day. Repay me then.”
My friend then chimed in, “Or maybe you can help someone else who crosses your path down the road.”
“Pay it forward,” she said.
That moment. That one moment. That is when I learned from her what I did. We should do what we can, help when we can, make things better for others when we can. Not to feel good about ourselves. Not to acknowledge ourselves or our self-perceived worth. Not because we feel ashamed if we do not help.
We do things for others simply because those things need to done. There is no other justifiable reason.
Until the other night, I had no idea the degree to which my friend’s lesson on that trip had been paid forward. Since that rest area stop, I have tried to selflessly give of myself to others in times of need. I have never considered myself a success at that, and I certainly never even imagined that anyone was learning anything from the lessons I learned from her. But her lessons have taken hold on future generations to be sure.
My dearest, most true and most heart-felt friend confided in me the other night. He’s a young man. He came over for a while to visit. I have known for years that he has watched me and learned some stuff from me. Some bad. Mostly good, I hope. Until the other night, I had no clue that he had actually picked up on what I learned from my most important friend that evening at the rest area. He has. In a huge way.
I had earlier in the night caught wind of some regrets his endearing wife was experiencing. I pressed him hard before he caved in and told me the truth.
The man has begun to sell some of the things that have been his life-long treasures to help his wife. His wife is regretting the need for him to do such things just to help her. And, until I pressed him, he did not want to tell me. He is not looking for praise. He is doing what he is not for self appreciation. He is doing what needs to be done. Nothing more.
My dearest friend knows how to sell things. Somehow, he always finds buyers when he needs them. The other night, after pressing him further for answers, he reluctantly told me of a young twelve-year-old who answered his Craigslist ad about the treasures he is selling to help his wife. The kid has no money. My friend asked to speak with the youngster’s dad. The dad told my friend that he had been going through some tough stuff we mostly all have the past few years. Lost jobs. Lost income. Lost wealth. Still, that dad insisted that his child buy at least one my friend’s treasures. You know, to make that kid feel okay about things – if even for a short while. That dad simply did what needed to be done.
But during the conversation between my friend and the kid’s dad, my friend learned that the dad had recently lost a rather good paying job. That dad was worried about providing a Christmas that would matter for his son. Upon hearing the dad’s story, my friend volunteered to give the man one of his newest, unused and most treasured items in his collection. He made the offer so that the dad would have a special gift to give to that precious twelve-year-old. The dad graciously accepted.
Things are being paid forward.
After my friend told me the story, the whole story, it all became clear to me. And it has brought to life, in my tiny corner of the world, a real-life interpretation of O. Henry’s “The Gift Of The Magi.”
It’s a short story of a young woman who cuts off all of her beautiful long hair and sells it to buy her young husband for Christmas a sparkling and needed chain to hold the pocket watch he treasures. At the same time, her husband sells his treasure – his watch – to buy for his loving wife combs for her long and beautiful hair.
Here is the last paragraph from the story, “The Gift Of The Magi.”
“The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the new-born King of the Jews in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts, these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they, are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.”
My story here is not the same as O. Henry’s. But there are some important parallels. My friend regrets placing his wife in a regretful situation. I know his wife regrets placing her husband where she believes she has. But their combined regrets are their gifts. And they are the wisest I know.
The twist here may not be as poignant as O. Henry’s. But, if a dad, a stranger in the lives of my friend and his wife, can make a Christmas – a real Christmas for his son – why would anyone deny such a gift to a man and his child or denounce the regret that caused this to happen?
And the Magi? They are all of us. Just as did the Three Wise Men, we love. We trust. We have faith. We learn. We teach those who cross our paths. And those we teach find others on their paths .
And we share our magic with all who care to receive what we have to give.
We do all of that for one simple and magical reason.
Because it needs to be done.