Back in high school I had a musical friend who wore a sweatshirt displaying the whimsical artwork of Sandra Boynton and featuring the quote “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.”
Having earned a BA in English and theatre in college, I now know that the quote comes from the 1697 play The Mourning Bride by William Congreve. Of course the popular quote above is in fact a rather egregious mis-quote, but it is the one we all know, therefore I shall use it as I see fit.
So within the theme of a sublime thing having tremendous power over an undesirable thing, I bring you this story.
A little more than a week ago, I received a group text from a neighbor.
I immediately replied that we would contribute, and then promptly forgot about it.
A few days later, she texted again and said she would be around to the next day to pick up whatever we had gathered. My entire family was in the same room when I received this second text, so I asked them to all stop what they were doing and listen. I read the original message to my wife and kids and they all listened intently.
Then an amazing thing happened.
Before I go on I need to say this… my children are normal. Although they love each other, they fight. Although they respect Emily and me, they sass-back and say things that indicate otherwise. They are generally responsible, but they daily do irresponsible things. As I said, my children are normal.
So, they listen to the charge and off they went. They collected clothing, folded it neatly (I knew they knew how) and placed it in bags. They went through the game cupboard and picked out games they have outgrown, went through each one and neatly made sure they were complete. They taped up split box corners and made everything look as new as possible.
Last year, Santa brought a racing game that involved building a track out of about 2,000 plastic pieces. They put it together a few times, but it has spent most of its life in a disorganized pile under the pool table in our basement. My youngest son Lawrence decided he would like to donate it, and proceeded to spend more than an hour organizing the pile of pieces, such that they fit neatly back into the original box. This from a child who will argue and rant for fifteen minutes to avoid a five-minute chore.
For the grown-ups, we went down into our furnace room where we keep all the things we seldom use. There we found a brand new, Cuisinart ice cream maker that had never even been opened. After discussing it for a minute, neither Emily nor I could recall how long ago we got it. Debating if we should give away something that was probably worth $150 or more I asked out loud, “if someone asked us this morning if they could borrow our ice cream maker, how would you have responded?”
Emily didn’t hesitate, she said, “I would have said that we didn’t have one.” I wiped the dust off the box with a dishcloth and replied, “and if anyone asks you tomorrow, that answer will be true.”
I was actually a little embarrassed by the excess and riches we possessed, about which we were barely aware.
As he finished his long task of plastic part organization, Lawrence brought the complete box of the racetrack over to the growing pile in the kitchen table and proclaimed, “this feels good, you know helping people who need help.”
We ended up collecting several adult armfuls of things, both new and “gently used.”
A few more days went by and on Saturday I got another text.
I have shared this with my children and they are happy for the success of the effort, but more importantly I have to believe that this experience is something that they will remember while walking through the self-centered, possession-focused world in which they live.
My wife Emily’s maternal grandfather developed a philosophy during the depression. Although he had to work several jobs to support his family, he considered himself blessed to able to do so. Whenever anyone asked him for money on the street, he always obliged saying to himself, “it isn’t going to make him, but it certainly isn’t going t break me, and it is the right thing to do.”
Our society has us believing that success is measured by the volume of things we can acquire, and hold onto.
I put it to you that the opposite is true.
True success comes from the giving of ourselves: be it in mind, body, spirit or possessions. Think about this… churches for centuries have asked for 10% of a parishioner’s income as a contribution. This is called a “tithe,” and very few people do this, including this writer.
But, if you were forced to choose between 90% of your life, or a random selection of lives from the human population, you’d be a fool to roll the dice. Sure, you could end up with the life of a Hollywood superstar, but the odds say you are far more likely to end up poverty-stricken, almost guaranteed in fact.
So, enjoy your blessings but don’t forget to share them with those around you. I’m not just talking about money either, something as simple as a smile or a kind word can make all the difference to someone who’s struggles are greater than yours.
No matter how you celebrate Christmas, from the orthodox to the purely secular, there is no denying that this season does something to us all, something positive. Take that feeling and run with it, not just this week, but the whole year ahead until it comes around again on the calendar. Focus on words of my ten-year-old son Lawrence, “this feels good, you know helping people who need help.” And if it feels good to you, Imagine how it feels to the person who truly needed it.
Copyright © 2014 - Stephen S. Nazarian - All rights reserved. (Music May Have Charms, But…)