On a cold day in December in the early eighties, my dad saw a man walking down the highway carrying an old sewing machine. My dad stopped and offered the man a ride. As the miles passed, the man shared that he had taken his late wife’s sewing machine into town for repairs because he needed to mend his young son’s clothes. It was apparent the man was facing some very difficult times.
He said his son wanted a BB gun for Christmas, but he could not afford it. As he often did, my father offered to help. The next week my mom and I accompanied my dad to a small home in need of repairs on the outskirts of town. I will never forget the joy of that little boy as we unloaded gifts of clothes, toys and food. No sooner than he had opened his much-anticipated BB gun, the boy turned and ran to his room asking us to wait. He came back with a gift that he presented to my mom.
Inside a small plastic treasure chest that once held candy, the boy had placed a plastic monkey pendant. The treasure chest had been lovingly wrapped in worn wrapping paper held together with a piece of wire. Tears filled my mom’s eyes as she put on the old brooch. For more than 30 years we have placed that precious gift on our tree as a reminder of the true meaning of the holidays.
From an early age my parents taught my sister and me the value of giving back. We hosted annual holiday parties for disadvantaged youth. We delivered homemade soup, cheesy casseroles and fresh vegetables from my dad’s garden to sick friends, shut-ins and new moms. And we spent hours at the nursing home visiting not only our relatives, but those that had no family.
We were not wealthy. But we gave the gift of friendship to those who so desperately needed it. It did not matter the person’s political preferences, skin color, social status or religious beliefs.
In a time of so much divisiveness, I keep thinking about the NICU as the great equalizer. Parents of every age, religion, race, economic status and political party are represented behind those locked doors. And when you are there, you don’t care that much about foreign policy, the economy or immigration. You just want your baby to live.
I hope our nation can embrace the holiday season as a time for healing by reaching out to those in need – forgetting politics and opening our hearts to others that are desperate for a friend, a new coat or a warm meal.
As the Executive Director of Hand to Hold, I encounter heartbreaking stories every day. But I also bear witness to tremendous acts of kindness, selflessness and generosity. People giving of their time, talents and financial gifts to ensure others have the support they need during very challenging times.
I am so thankful for the lessons my parents taught me through action, not just words. There is no doubt those lessons laid the foundation of Hand to Hold. I will think about that this year as I hang my favorite ornament on the tree.
Happy Holidays, Kelli