I am indebted to the homeless people of
our planet who inspired this conversation.
Christmas past and
over the last twenty years was for me, a man of humble beginnings,
awesome. We spent
at the premier ski resorts of the world replete with après
ski to die for. Or sailing warm gulf waters in freedom
class yachts or luxury one hundred foot power cruisers. There
may have also been the occasional private jet that ferried us to and
from various European playgrounds. No, not a Lear. A privately owned
custom cabin Boeing 727. That's a whole other league.
Somewhere in there I also recall
in Lawrence Rockefeller's United States Virgin Islands, vacationing in
private mansions right on the beach, a short walk across the sands to
yachts we sailed lazily through the bejeweled islands of the deep blue
I loved those halcyon times. I really did, even though I was only
ninety percent comfortable with them. They were remarkable times during
which I was the beneficiary of staggering generosity which required I
purchase new suitcases to trek a mountain of newly acquired gifts home.
Yet even during those extraordinary vacations I envisioned doing
something else for
This year I finally decided I was going to. What I wanted to do was
prepare and serve Christmas dinner for homeless people. I wanted
to be about serving rather than be about receiving.
I was clear serving homeless people would be a remarkable experience.
It was. And when I started to plan and schedule the occasion, I was as
yet unprepared for something else I later discovered which was even
more remarkable and totally unexpected.
At the beginning of December I called the institution in Napa, my home
town in California, best known for preparing and serving meals for
homeless people on Christmas day, to inquire about serving. I was told
a coordinator would call me back. When the call came it was
not what I expected at all.
The coordinator thanked me for offering to serve. Then she asked me
not to come. She had too many volunteers, too many people
offering to serve. In their limited workspace, more volunteers would
actually interfere with things working.
I called all the other institutions in Napa who feed homeless people on
Christmas day. I got the same response. "Please don't
come. We have too many volunteers.".
"That's interesting" I thought. "Too many volunteers?
Still intent on serving homeless people on Christmas day, I called
similar institutions in Vallejo, a neighboring town. None of them were
open to offers to volunteer either. The responses were exactly the
same. Don't come etc. We have too many volunteers.
It was only after I moved on to and got the same response from all the
institutions in San Francisco, fifty miles away, that I realized
something profound about people and
which blew me away. People want to serve. People come
forward in droves to serve. People stand in
line to serve. And furthermore, people start standing in line
to serve in December in May! If you haven't found a place to
serve on Christmas day by late September, the chances are, at least in
the greater San Francisco Bay Area, you won't find a place to serve at
I finally found an opportunity to serve in Sonoma, another neighboring
town. I showed up just after 7:00am, dodging through mud puddles on a
delightfully overcast and drizzly Christmas day.
There were turkeys by the truckload to clean and prepare. There were
loaves of bread by the bushel to slice. There were onions and potatoes,
turnips and parsnips, carrots and chard, boxes and boxes and bags and
bags of vegetables to clean, peel, and slice. There were tables to lay.
There was all the resulting waste (organic, recyclable, and outright
trash) to manage.
Volunteers came from all walks of life. Young. Old. Professional.
Retired. Disabled. English. Latino. Local. People like me who had
traveled to avail themselves of the opportunity to serve. There were no
designated leaders, I noticed. There was just a job to be done. And
Boy, did it ever get done! I blinked ... and rows and rows of turkeys
were cleaned and laid out in basting trays ready for the ovens. I
blinked again ... and bags and bags of vegetables suddenly,
magically, became sliced and diced and were reincarnated as
salad in huge bowls each a yard in diameter. I blinked again ... and
sixty or seventy tables were set replete with crockery, cutlery,
candles, decorations, fresh loaves of bread, butter and cheese, and
each place mat was a crayon drawing on paper made and contributed by
local schoolchildren. Each table groaned with plenty.
"That's interesting" I thought. "No leaders. No one yelling
instructions or calling the shots. The only thing running this show is
the community Spirit of Service. And everything is getting
done that needs to get done. Wow!".
Hours flew by in seconds. The day was brilliantly executed from start
to finish. Donors donated. Volunteers volunteered. Preparers prepared.
People were served. I loved the entire experience, everything about it.
This, truly, is what the Spirit of Christmas and
is really all about. But the part that really got me was what was
written all over the faces of the people who showed up for the meal.
It's beyond description. In the midst of plenty, and especially in the
midst of plenty in the United States, when you stop to think about it,
it's not acceptable that people have no homes, that people go to bed at
night hungry, that some people don't even have a bed to go to at night.
To lay the lie to "that's the way it is" is its own reward.
A disheveled man came up to me in a dirty coat with tears streaming
down his cracked cheeks. He looked me dead in the eye and was quiet for
a moment while he collected his thoughts and held my hand. Then he said
hoarsely "Thank You! Just Thank You! Please have a drink on me as a
small token of my gratitude.". He proffered a hip pocket size bottle of
Jack Daniels. Without flinching I took it and drained the last few
drops it contained. How sweet it tasted!
* * *
However you spend
has potential for joy and greatness. But this I tell you: if you want
to experience a totally new dimension of the Spirit of
if you want to experience the best kick ass celebration of
the generosity of humanity you can imagine, then get out there and