'Tis the Season...
I’ve been working on a story idea recently—one in which the characters will spend a good part of the novel hungry, unsheltered, wandering—lost. It’s difficult to get into the mindset of someone who has so little when I have so much.
I’ve been a wanderer, but one of the fortunate ones. My homelessness was voluntary during the nine months I traveled the world with nothing but the contents of my backpack. During that time, there were a few nights I didn’t have a place to stay and had to sleep where I could (including one night on the floor of the women’s bathroom of the Chimanimani National Park in Zimbabwe, a shelter for which I was incredibly grateful).
I’ve been in the situation where I didn’t have enough in my bank account to make a withdrawal from an ATM machine—but at the time I worked at a bakery, so I always had enough to eat.
I’ve been unemployed, but had shelter through the kindness of family. I’ve been hungry, but only because I’ve forgotten to eat or because a meal was delayed or—once—neglected to bring enough food on a 15-hour train journey. I’ve never had a Christmas without friends, family, food and at least one gift. Last year, with nine people in the house, the cornucopia beneath the tree was an embarrassment of riches.
This morning, we have no milk in the house. Even buying two gallons at a time, we run out quickly with two growing boys. At first, I pouted. I love to make myself a cappuccino in the morning. Plain coffee just isn’t the same. There’s something about the ritual of foaming the milk, the lick of foam on the side of the mug, being able to dip my holiday biscotti into the creamy center.
But then I sat down to write about these characters. They’re not hungry yet, but they’re about to be. And I was reminded that I have coffee. I have homemade biscotti. I have the means to go out and buy milk and a car to transport the two gallons home. I have heat and a comfortable bed and the ability to give my kids something on their wish lists for Christmas.
Last week, my son’s classroom asked for volunteers to help sort donations for the Short Term Emergency Aid Committee in a neighboring town. The agency gives food and gifts to local families who might be barely scraping buy this month. My kid spent all weekend raking leaves, cleaning out the gutters, mowing the lawn, vacuuming and washing dishes so he could give an extra ten dollars to help out. Someone asked me why he didn’t keep some of it, and I answered that I think it’s because he knows he has enough, and there are people out there who don’t.
That’s the best gift I’ve received so far this holiday season. Just seeing that generosity of spirit in someone I love. And knowing that if my characters were real people, there might be someone out there willing to help them, without hesitation or judgment.
While writing a novel, we’re told to raise the stakes. Make things worse for our characters—and then make them worse again.
This holiday season, in real life, I am humbled by watching my child make things better.
And I’m determined to do the same. So I pledge to donate a dollar to go to local families in need for every individual who comments below*. And I’ll donate two dollars if you pledge to give back to your community, too. Just tell me who you are (so I know you're not a bot!) and your favorite holiday giving tradition--to family, to friends, to Secret Santas, to the community...
Happy holidays, my friends. And thank you for making it happier for others, too.
*I will donate to the Short Term Emergency Aid Committee, http://www.steac.org/, counting individual readers who comment up to and including Christmas Day.
This post got eight comments, so I've rounded up my donation to STEAC (Short-Term Emergency Aid Committee) in Yolo County to $20. Thank you all so much, and I hope you had a joyous season.