What I Learned from Giving out Presents to the Homeless on Christmas Eve

It was the time of jammed roads, angry honking, numerous car accidents and even more near escapes… It was the time of overcrowded stores, empty shelves and preoccupied faces resembling none of the “peace and joy” that all store speakers were roaring about… It was the time of bright-colored sweaters, fir trees tied to car roofs and night illumination… ‘Twas the season…

This year I decided to give out little presents to the homeless on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t a big deal, really. Some time ago, when I was having a bad day, my friend suggested to me: “Next time you feel lonely or sad, go to Vons, get a box of cupcakes and give them out to homeless people with messages of hope. It will take you out of your obsessive ‘me-me-me’ thinking and make you feel better right away!” I liked the idea, but never got around to fully implementing it.

While watching the holiday rush take over my city, I remembered the conversation and headed to the nearby Vons. I came home with several gift bags, a box of cupcakes, and a pack of water bottles. At home, I took out colored paper and made long strips, on which I wrote, “You are loved” and “Things work out,” and wrapped them around each cupcake, securing the ends with scotch tape. Then every bag got stacked with two of such cupcakes, napkins, a bottle of spring water and a one-dollar bill. I was finally ready to hit the roads of Las Vegas.

I drove to all the places where I habitually see people asking for money, and this is what I learned from this amazing experience.

1. Putting a smile on the face of a suffering person is priceless.

There was a lady sitting by the post office front door, with a sign saying that her husband had passed away, repeating emotionally, “Thank you, thank you very much…” until she bit hungrily into a cupcake, and another lady collecting money at a crossroad of main streets who looked surprised and sincerely touched – “Oh, wow! Thank you so much!…” and a homeless veteran on a corner… And then there was a young boy. Maybe about twelve years old. He was standing at a highway ramp and it took me several loops and even getting onto the highway to align my car properly with him, but when he took the cupcake out of the bag and pulled the colored strip off it, his eyes caught the message written on it and his whole face lit up! For a minute, he was a happy child again, and there are no words to describe the preciousness of that…

2. And this is the second lesson that I learned while delivering little gifts to the homeless – it was as much for me as it was for them.

Yesterday on Instagram I saw that one of the yoga teachers that I follow did the same thing – gave food away to the homeless – on Christmas Day in Portland. In the photo description, she said, “You may be thinking good on us for helping serve people without homes, but honestly it is selfish, when you serve and help others you win 100% because helping others feels so good.” It absolutely does! Helping others reminded me of the bumper sticker that some owners of adopted pets display: “WHO RESCUED WHOM?” Really… While delivering my little presents to total strangers on the streets, I was overwhelmed with this warm, gooey feeling in my heart – the feeling of connectedness with these particular people as well as with all other human beings in my city and in the whole world! It was a strong realization of all of us simply being one big family!

3. The last insight struck me the hardest, probably… I went to all the places where I usually see homeless people and not all of them were there… It could have been for a good or bad reason. I didn’t have any information to make any kind of an assumption. However, it reminded me just how temporary everything is in this world! I suddenly knew on a deeper level the transient nature of all things physical, including people. One day we take them for granted and are even annoyed with them; the next day they’re not there anymore… So, whatever you want to do in your life, do it now! Whoever you want to hug, hug them now! Whoever you want to help, help them now! They might not be there tomorrow…

That morning I had attended a yoga class. The teacher – Corina – hugged us all at the beginning of the class as her Christmas present to us and finished the class with the words: “Our house is not big, but it’s full of love! If you don’t have your family with you today and are spending this holiday alone, the doors of our home are open to you! I don’t want anyone to feel lonely or sad today…”

I finished my drive and headed to my wonderful yoga teacher’s place, knowing more deeply than ever something that she believes, teaches and lives herself so beautifully: “Whatever you do in your life, share love, be kind, help and support others because in this big and beautiful world, we are all one!”

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  1. I worked with an organization in San Diego in 1990, and we functioned as a group when working (providing food and kindness) with the homeless. There was an element of mental illness in that population, and those of us who were not either aware or trained to deal with that possibility were protected by those who were. I also wanted to photograph the homeless at one point in my life, and I called and talked with the police officers who worked with them and the same concern surfaced very strongly in my discussion about the homeless with the police. I discussed going about with them, and what I learned from them had me put my camera and intention aside for legal and safety reasons. Congratulations on your important and wonderful efforts. Do be careful.

    Liked by 1 person

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