I would say we, my wife and I, show good Christmas spirit. Some would say we take some risk in what we do, but my wife says we are safe because we're trying to do good things. I've found it is wise to follow her lead.
We once owned a bird store and every Christmas season we would ride around our neighborhood passing out twenty-dollar bills to those who appeared in need. To be honest, I think it did more to lift our spirits than it did the recipients. It weighed on my conscience and ultimately brought me to the realization we were woefully inadequate in our giving. Twenty bucks didn't make much difference to someone homeless. It made for a nice evening perhaps.
I doubt a single person we 'blessed' with a twenty-dollar bill went back to their cardboard shelter and sang a Christmas carol. It reached a point where I came to understand the truth of the situation and it didn't sit well with me. Our little Christmas handouts didn't amount to a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things. The truth was we did it more for ourselves than we did for the sake of spreading goodwill to our fellow man.
We eventually lost our business to burglary (another story for another time) and eased our injured psyches back into the nine to five working grind. The entry back into the regular work force altered our perspective of the homeless folk we encountered. We didn't feel differently towards them, but we didn't feel as responsible I suppose you could say. Maybe it had to do with the sameness of one week as opposed to another. I made the same amount one week as I did in the next and the one after that. When you have your own business, it varies. Christmas was a lucrative time of year and the compulsion to give was fueled by an increase in sales. That doesn't exist in a nine to five world.
My wife mentioned one December how we used to do a little something for Christmas. She said she missed lending a helping hand even if it was only a small gesture.
"It's the thought, honey. To do nothing at all speaks for itself, does it not?" she said.
I suppose I couldn't argue with the logic. Thus, the 'bring someone home to enjoy our family Christmas' plan came into being. We would roam the nearby streets seeking someone homeless we felt might enjoy an evening of Christmas joy with our family. The evening included Christmas diner, the opportunity to sing-a-long with our amateur, but well-meaning, renditions of Christmas carols and, finally, a bed with a feather-down quilt for the evening.
This went on for several years. We'd give socks or blankets as a gift. They'd open their gift or gifts along with the rest of the family. During dinner, we had our standard 'what do you wish you could receive this year?' question to pass the time. World peace, a new Cadillac, a Chicago Cubs World Series and 'a second chance' were the usual wishes.
The phrase, 'second chance', began to find an uneasy home in the back of my mind. To be honest, it took away from the joy of giving that I suppose was the real motivation behind our annual gesture. We were up late one evening and I could feel the discussion drifting towards a subject we had both been considering for a long time. I didn't want to have the conversation. I knew my wife to be a woman of action and I didn't want to take action.
She began, "Honey, what if we were to offer a second chance. Do you think any of these people would really want it? I mean, it is all just talk right. They don't really want a second chance do they?"
I sighed. "I don't know. I don't even know what they mean by a second chance."
"Well, what are we doing here really? Come spend the night and see what you're missing. Just make sure your ass is out the door by eight A.M. Enjoy your homeless existence. Precious memories. Bye, bye."
"Yeah, maybe. It's a nice gesture. It's a night off the street and a chance to share Christmas with some nice people who aren't judging…."
"Oh? Aren't we? We go driving around looking for a harmless looking homeless person, right? We don't want one too scary." She had a purposeful look on her face.
I could see this was heading somewhere I wouldn't be able to stop. "So, what are we going to do?"
She smiled. She knew I realized arguing would be pointless. "We walk the walk. Make him an offer in the morning."
I sighed as she slipped under the covers and shut off the light on the nightstand. It was decided.
That morning Jerry Simmons had his possessions bundled up and ready to go. "Thank you, Mike, it was a truly wonderful evening. Donna is a great woman, you are so lucky."
Now, it was my turn. "You said you wished you had a second chance last night, Jerry. What did you mean by that?"
Jerry had a look of fear cross his face. I wasn't expecting it. Perhaps the very idea of getting a chance terrified him. I realized I knew nothing about him. I didn't know how he became homeless or how long he had been homeless. For all I knew he preferred being homeless. Now, I became afraid. I realized Jerry was a complete stranger. He could be anybody and I had him in my home.
He took a deep breath. "A second chance has to do with time, Mike. Getting myself presentable. Looking at what jobs are available. Applying for jobs and having a place where they can call to get a hold of me. I'd need a place where I could call them and let them know I'm anxious to hear if the position has been filled. I just need some time as a regular person. I can't do that living in an alley one day and under the freeway overpass the next. I know what you're thinking, how hard is that?"
I interjected, "No, I don't think anything of the sort. I can imagine how the day to day must be unbearable."
He continued, "It's easy to wonder though; what's stopping me from renting a room for seven days? Well, at the end of seven days I'd be penniless. What if I don't have a job? Even if I managed to get one, I wouldn't get paid for two weeks. It doesn't work. Well, not your problem. It isn't as easy as it sounds. Thanks for the evening. It's going to keep a smile on my face for a long time." He turned and grabbed the handle on the door.
I could feel the energy from my wife in the other room. I had to speak up now. "I'd like to offer you a second chance."
"What? Whaddya mean?"
"I mean, I, we, my wife and I would like to offer you a chance to stay here and look for a job. If that is of interest to you, then you can live in the room you stayed in last night." It occured to me how much trust I had in my wife. I had no idea who this man was or what he was capable was.
Jerry was motionless for quite a while. Thought was almost visibly going through his mind. He extended a visibly shaking hand. "You won't regret this. I'll begin to look immediately." He took his possessions and returned to the guest room.
My wife peeked in on Jerry, "Coffee?" she asked.
Within two weeks, Jerry began work at Jonas Realty as an underwriter. He moved into a hotel two weeks after that. Within a month, he rented a bachelors apartment near his new job.
So far, he is the only one to have taken us up on our offer. However, we make the offer every year. Truly, I have no choice. My wife has enough conscience for the both of us. I think it shows remarkable growth on my part. I have the sense to do what my wife tells me to do. I trust her.