December is a month of change, wonder and nostalgia. It brings to a final conclusion the Fall season, as Thanksgiving has just passed, and hunting season is basically over. This last month of the year ushers in Christmas, the new year and all that the cold days of winter have yet to unleash. It is more than just another month on the calendar. When December comes to the northeast, it brings with it the stuff of warm childhood memories and the reality of a long, snow-filled winter. How you see it depends on how you see life. For the young and the young at heart, it is a time of dreams come true in a winter wonderland. For everyone else, it is a time of preparing to go on hold until the Spring thaw arrives. The point being made here is quite simple, life is what you make it.
My father and mother were believers in making life good, and they instilled that value in our family. We never had much in material wealth, but we were wealthy in the things that mattered most. Love, food on the table, a clean, warm home and consistent fair discipline were in great abundance. Since my parents had both lived through the great depression of 1929, they knew what it was to go without. I heard the stories of what things were like in those days, and I marveled at how resourceful they were with the little they had. What really amazed me was that I never heard them complain about it, not once. They took great pride in the fact that their struggle for survival was met with personal strength and the courageous conviction needed to make the best of what they had on hand.
No one ever sat back and expected or wanted the government to bail them out. People did what was necessary to make ends meet, and they helped each other when things got tough. It was not just a way of living for everyone, it was a way of staying alive. If you didn’t work together, you didn’t survive, and everyone understood the consequences. My grandmother, Louisa Rossi, was a great example of this. Over the years, my mother told me stories of how grandpa and grandma Rossi passed this lifestyle down to her and others. Especially during holiday time, when December came, they brought hope to the hopeless in what could have been the start of a very difficult winter.
My grandfather, Alexander Rossi, was a master blacksmith in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the dark days of the depression. He always made a good salary even when others in their apartment building in Flatbush, NY had lost their jobs. Many of those people worked temporary jobs for the wealthy, stood hours in bread lines or dug through the garbage behind restaurants just to have one meal a day. To help these unfortunate ones, grandma Rossi made it a point of cooking extra, and I mean a lot of extra, every night. She knew some in their building had eaten little that day, so just before dinner she would take a walk and invite families to join them for the evening meal. It was not uncommon for 25 or 30 people to share God’s bounty and blessing around my grandparent’s dining room table.
To spare the guests from feeling embarrassed, grandma would ask each family to bring some minor item that was “needed” to complete the meal. A loaf of bread, a few apples, a bottle of wine or even a jug of water were welcomed additions to any meal. The time spent together praying over the meal, sharing recipes and telling stories, enriched everyone. Such kind-hearted generosity deeply impacted the lives of all who shared those meals. It kept families together during the hard months, and encouraged them to hold on for the better days to come. No one knows how many thousands of dollars grandma Rossi spent over the years, but her desire to alleviate suffering and bless all she could, made it a worthwhile, eternal investment. She knew that a little kindness, food and time was all you needed to make someone feel that life was worth living.
Years ago, in Saranac Lake, NY, I learned a very hard lessons along these lines as I was on my way to teach school one day. It was a bitter cold January day when I stopped at a traffic light and saw a ragged man crossing the street in front of me. He had cardboard wrapped around his shoes to keep the snow out, torn gloves on his hands and wore a dirt stained overcoat. In my heart I felt God wanted me to stop and buy the man a hot breakfast. To do so would have made me late for work so I ignored the clear inner voice and drove on. By the time I arrived at work I was deeply convicted and promised God I would look for that person the next day and stop to buy him food. I never saw the man again. What I did see was the story of a homeless man who had been found frozen to death a few days later. Had I stopped that story may have ended very differently.
What about you? When December comes, what acts of kindness will you pass on? Perhaps your days will be filled with stress and frustration of not have more to give those who already have more than they can use. My hope is that you will look beyond your self interests and seek to help and bless those who have honest needs to be met. Think of the treasured lessons to be learned around a table of food that is filled with those who have no family, the lonely or the singles who are by themselves this holiday season. Consider the eternal impact you could have by opening up your life and sharing your table with those who are less fortunate.
Who knows, by slowing down and showing compassion and kindness, you might touch someone God has destined to change the world. It could change a life, and that life might be yours!