To our readers, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, black, white, Native American, refugee, poor, wealthy, ailing, healthy, gay, straight: Merry Christmas on this fine morning.
The greeting may mean most to those who are Christian, but the day’s meaning has spread beyond those confines, appealing in some way to all who believe in forgiveness, charity, love and the wish for peace. Other faiths also hold to those life-affirming tenets, of course, but in this country and in most of the Western world, this is the day that best focuses and magnifies them.
It reminds us, especially in these timorous days, of the need to reach beyond ourselves and to welcome and nourish those who are suffering, whoever they are and wherever they have called home, whether it is Buffalo or some far-flung corner of the world. It’s a day when we have the opportunity to learn again the old truth that it is not just better to give than to receive, but that giving is receiving. We feed our own better angels when we reach out beyond our own needs to offer comfort to others. It’s the core of virtually all religions and, not insignificantly, an idea long fused with the American identity.
Like all people, we drift sometimes from core values – whether they are sacred or secular – but we are drawn back by the call of our own ideals and the best moments of our history.
The value of giving is also why those who criticize the commercialism of Christmas often miss an important point. Yes, the relentless din of the pitch may become too much at times, but it is capitalism’s recognition of the pure human selflessness of offering gifts to others, especially when, as we mature, it doesn’t much matter what, if anything, we may receive in return. Gordon Gekko was wrong.
Here is selflessness. A 28-year-old Californian named Eugene Yoon had a sudden and powerful calling to perform a big, random act of kindness for … someone. He saw a video of a man he did not know. Arthur Renowitzky was a paraplegic with an outlandish, improbable commitment that he would walk again.
Indeed, it was possible, but as CBS News reported, it required an $80,000 piece of technology that Renowitzky would, in effect, wear. Yoon called him, promised Renowitzky he would walk again, then set about making it happen. He quit his job at a research company to hike from the U.S. border with Mexico to Canada. On the way, he posted videos appealing for donations and, somewhere in the state of Washington, he reached his goal.
And Renowitzky walked.
That is Christmas in action. So are the physicians who braved Africa’s deadly ebola epidemic to treat people they never met. So are the states and communities that welcome refugees from Syria and other war-torn parts of the world, where suffering is on a scale that most Americans can little comprehend.
The spirit of Christmas appears in smaller, everyday acts of kindness, as well. Think of the Buffalo police officers and employees who gathered presents for a 4-year-old who spent days alone with his deceased mother before being discovered. The thousands of people who donate to the annual News Neediest Fund also breathe life into the season.
And that’s the point. Christmas, practiced well, is a living thing, afoot across the land, day by day and minute by minute. Today, we celebrate it. So, merry Christmas.