Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Reason for the Season

Photo by DeAngelo Jones
Over the years, I have grown to dislike Christmas. I would even say that I dread it. Instead of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ or, more accurately, the slow ascent of the sun toward the Northern Hemisphere once more, heralding the lengthening of the days and the renewal of life in the Spring, it is a commercial holiday where people use material objects as a surrogate for real connection.

I've gotten more emails from Amazon, The Tie Bar, and JackThreads than I have from friends and family members. Not unlike my family and friends, when I do hear from these companies, they want something from me. Often times, I succumb to the constant intrusion into the sanctity of my autonomous life, buying a new shirt, pair of shoes, or giving the few bucks that I'm asked to "lend". God, I need another shirt, sweater, or bill to pay like I need a hole in the head (lobotomy maybe).

However, the best thing about the holiday season is the spirit of giving the permeates the ethos. This year, my company (Norwegian American Hospital) decided to have a toy drive in lieu of our usual "Adopt - a - Family". I was put in charge of the project. Given the low morale of the workers as evidenced by our engagement survey scores, I didn't know what to expect. Armed only with my name and the reputation for trustworthiness and competence that I had engendered over the fast few years, I humbly asked our employees for donations (both cash and toys).

Many of our employees are themselves living paycheck to paycheck. They can barely make ends meet and have some tough choices to make on a daily basis in their own lives. However, when confronted with the needs of the community at-large, they rose to the occasion! Hundreds of toys flooded into my tiny corner office. Employees walked up to me with envelopes filled with cash, some of significant amounts. In the end, we collected nearly 200 toys and $500 in cash.

On December 19th, we had our toy drive. There are no words to describe how honored I felt to be a part of this event. The kids that received the toys didn't know that they were poor. Their level of scrutiny concerning what we had to offer them was evidence of that. However, the level of appreciation and gratitude that their parents expressed was enough to break even Scrouge's heart. There was a literal and figurative sigh of relief from the parents in knowing that their children would have something in their stockings this holiday season.

The other aspect of the toy drive that amazed me was the dedication and teamwork by our employees, who took time from their very busy schedules to volunteer to brighten the lives of a few kids. I think that if you asked any of the volunteers, they would say that the most important work done that day was not accomplished in an office or conference room, but in the lobby of our hospital at that event.

We have out the remainder of our toys at a coat drive that took place last night. Hundreds of families lined the corridor to get winter coats for their children, something that those of us that are fortunate take for granted as a given. Once again, the parents were so grateful that their kids would not have to brave a harsh Midwestern winter with a sweatshirt or layers under a spring jacket.

To me, this is the essence of the holiday season. Yes, it is to give material objects, but only those that are truly needed and greatly appreciated. Most importantly, it is about creating shared experiences, opportunities to work together and enjoy the fruits of meaningful labor and, most importantly, to increase the amount of positive energy permeating the cosmos.

Photo by DeAngelo Jones