In late November of 1995 I lay in bed, looking around my studio apartment, trying in the dark to pick out things I mght be able to sell. My $450 rent was due in a matter of days and I didn’t have it. I was working two jobs. I was temping during the day. I was cocktailing at night. I was interning at KGTV, the ABC affiliate, on the weekend.
I wasn’t making enough money to pay my bills and pursue my ‘dream job’ of becoming a television reporter. In what little free time I had, I was making copies of VHS tapes as resumes and mailing them to News Directors around the country hoping someone, anyone, would give me a shot. Butte, Montana? I’d move there. Fargo, North Dakota. You bet. Paducah, Kentucky? Bring it on. Dubbing video tapes and mailing them out was an expensive process. And it was sapping my funds.
So I had no money. I could cover my utilities. My phone. My gas. I’d even paid my student loans. Because when you go to college, you have to pay that money back, even if you can’t get a job.
But my $450 in rent? I didn’t have it.
I cycled through tears of desperation, a knot in my stomach the size of Butte, Montana (stupid News Director – why wouldn’t he just give me a job??) and was now approaching I-give-up. I woke the next morning, dragged myself out of bed and prepared to cycle through my 9am-5pm and 6pm-11pm day. Again.
My eyes were red from crying. Attractive. I know.
But that evening something happened.
In my mail was an envelope. Hand written. You know how it feels to open hand-written mail. It is a little like Christmas every time. What could it be? Who is it from? Is it a card? A letter? A note? This one had no return address. And a blurred post mark.
I opened it. American Express gift cheques. Five of them. One hundred dollars. One hundred dollars. One hundred dollars. One hundred dollars. Fifty dollars.
You do the math. Exactly the $450 I needed for rent.
That’s it. No name. And remember the postage was blurred. I couldn’t even tell if it had been mailed in San Diego where I was living at the time.
Included with the checks: A simple note, “Merry Christmas, Danielle. We hope this helps.” Helps??!!?? It SAVED me. I sat on my bed and cried. It was like being tossed a life vest. The relief washed over me in waves. I suddenly felt as though I could breathe again. I spent the first few hours trying to figure out WHO my guardian angel could possibly be. And then I realized they didn’t want to be discovered. They wanted to help me anonymously – to preserve my pride and maybe, just maybe, they hoped I would be inspired to pass it on someday.
This is someday.
Give Good, Get Good.
At this time…when I was only 22, I was on the receiving end of the needing. I was on the receiving end of the giving.
But not anymore. I’m older, wiser. My student loans are a thing of the past. Now, I can give. I decided right then I wouldn’t always be the needy one. And as soon as I could – I’d be the anonymous giver. I try throughout the year to do little things that make a difference…. but it is during the holidays that I find the greatest joy.
Adopt a family. Donate toys to a Children’s hospital or the Ronald McDonald House. Pick a homeless shelter, call and ask what they might need. Remember that your every act serves as an example for your children. They will model what you DO, not simply what you TELL them to do.
I encourage you to watch the news for inspiration…. take for example the story of the Secret Santas invading Kmarts in dozens of states, paying off layaways for families who might not otherwise be able to provide Christmas for their children. If you have the means, and haven’t found a way to give yet, march your happy self in to one and pay off a balance. How easy is that? And how beautiful?
It is even happening right here in St. Louis.
I sat with my small people last night….as I do each year, talking about what it means to give during the holidays. They are only five and seven. I know they are young. I can’t expect them to understand everything. They make Christmas lists for Santa. They spend too much time saying, “I want….” and “I need….” and I truly want them to experience the joy that comes from helping someone else. I know, on some level, I’m succeeding…. as we talked, they grabbed their piggy banks, shook loose some dollars and change and said, ‘we want to help too’.
I was asked yesterday what I ‘get’ for doing something for someone else…. in other words… ‘what is in it for me?’
I wish my heart would turn a different color, my eyes would literally sparkle, that the outside of me could belie the giddy on my inside. That’s what I ‘get’.
I get to know I am giving someone what was given to me in 1995.
Relief. The ability to breathe again. A smile.
And now that I’m a mom? I’m hopeful I’m teaching my small people a life lesson they will carry with them:
Give Good, Get Good. Pass it on.
Happy Holidays, friends.
Photo Credit: Flickr Artotem