Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Christmas Story

I was a witness to something pretty cool yesterday. It actually had me in tears for a good portion of the afternoon.

As part of their holiday compensation package, all of the employees at the company where my girlfriend works were given $100. But there was a “catch”. They couldn’t keep the money and they couldn’t give it to a friend or family member. They had to “pay it forward” and do something nice for someone else. Then they were supposed to log onto the company website and tell how they dispersed the money.

Just that alone is pretty cool.

My girlfriend's oldest son is an Army Paratrooper with a wife and a young child. She understands how incredibly difficult life can be for military families, especially around the holidays while the husband is in Harm's Way. She decided that she would like to take the money and put it in a thank you card, drive out to Fort Leavenworth, find someone who looked like they needed it, and just give it to them. She invited me to come along.

Her idea was to sort of wander around the Post Exchange and watch people, maybe pick up snippets of conversation, looking for someone in need. She really wanted to give it to the wife of a soldier who was on deployment; to let her know that her sacrifices were appreciated and that someone cared. Walk up, hand her the card, tell her thank you, maybe give her a hug, and walk away.

Now, picking out a deserving soul at random is pretty tricky. A woman with a shopping cart piled high with expensive goodies is obviously out. A woman with a handful of clipped coupons struggling to find the right items is a possibility. A woman pushing a shopping cart that contains more children than merchandise deserve serious consideration.

But we didn't have to make that choice. As so often happens, events unfolded in a completely unexpected way.

The first place we stopped after we got on base was a convenience store to get a card, use the restroom and grab a couple of soft drinks.

My girlfriend strikes up a conversation with the store manager, explaining what she wants to do, and soliciting ideas on where she can go to find someone in need. The store manager gets on the phone with the base and the general consensus seems to be that she should come back during the week when the appropriate offices are open or just mail the voucher to the Army Community Service who would disperse the funds based on assessed need. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

But my girlfriend is a little discouraged. She really wanted to make a difference in a deserving person’s life and let them know that they were loved and appreciated. She didn’t want to just add it to a pool of money and let some bureaucratic committee decide who gets an impersonal check without so much as a kind word. She wanted to do something personal and “Christmassy”.

While we are there, the manager’s daughter shows up and is waiting for her to get off the phone so she can talk to her. She is young, obviously newly pregnant and (I figure) most likely married to a soldier.

As we are leaving the convenience store, the manager's daughter catches up to us at the door. She said her mom had told her what my girlfriend was trying to do. I immediately thought “OK, she wants the $100, her comes the sob story”. I'm such a cynical bastard.

But instead, she said that she knew someone who was really struggling. A young mother with 3 boys, ages 5, 3 and 1, with another child on the way. Her husband had just been deployed to Iraq. The manager's daughter could obviously use an extra hundred bucks herself. But she was thinking of someone else.

My girlfriends eyes immediately misted up (as did they are now), her jaw got set in that way that says "I've made up my mind!" (a look I know all too well) and she just said “Where does she live?” This was exactly the type of person my girlfriend had been hoping to find at random.

The manager's daughter said we could follow her. When we got to her friend's duplex, the woman wasn’t home. The manager's daughter said she didn’t have her cell phone with her (do any of us actually memorize phone numbers anymore? I don't.), but she could run home, call her friend and find out where she was. It would take 5, 10 minutes, tops. Cool.

So we take some time to drive around the base at Fort Leavenworth waiting for a call. My god! What a beautiful place. Except for the old Disciplinary Barracks. That didn’t look like much fun. But the rest of the base is just magnificent! Well manicured lawns, lots of trees, 150 year old red brick buildings, great views. Just incredible. I’d love to take my Nikon up there and get some pictures, but I’m guessing I’d need a pass of some sort. Post 9/11, just walking around military bases snapping photos is probably frowned upon.

My girlfriend's phone rings. It's the manager's daughter. Turns out that the reason her friend wasn’t home was because she had to take her youngest boy to the Emergency Room! Talk about someone who could use some help! Her friend offers to meet us at the convenience store where we met and take us to the hospital.

We all go in, my girlfriend says hello and starts to try and explain what's going on. The woman looks a bit suspicious. I don't blame her. Military families are proud. Rightfully so.

My girlfriend quickly gives up trying to explain things and just hands over the card. The woman thanks my girlfriend, my girlfriend thanks the woman, who stands up (feverish baby in arms) and offers a heartfelt hug.

We make a quick exit so the young mother can focus on her children.

I don't know if I believe in a god or not. Mostly I lean towards not (as frequent visitors know). But my girlfriend believes. What are the odds of $100 randomly finding it's way to a pregnant military wife with 3 young boys in the Emergency Room of a hospital?

I'm just sayin'.

Merry Christmas folks.

Thanks for stopping by.


Irish KC said...

This is great. Even though you told us in the beginning that it had a happy ending, I kept reading it with the dread that lack of faith in people brings, constantly getting ready to cringe if not be gutted. And I wasn't.


travelingal said...

Very nice Christmas story.

By the way, Ft. Leavenworth has tours of the houses at least once a year. You should find out when as they are super beautiful inside. Also, they have killer garage sales twice a year..spring and fall..people show up before the sun rises. Lots of cool stuff for everyone.

Spyder said...

Great story! So what is the company's website so that we can read the other stories.

Xavier Onassis said...

Spyder - #1, I don't know. #2, Even if I did know I wouldn't post it, just because I want to put as much distance between my outrageous blogging and my girlfriend's much needed job as possible.

Travel - I was wondering about the interiors. I've been in barrack housing before that was just deplorable. Even officers living in conditions that would make people in The Projects say "Damn. I'm glad I don't live on base!" And the fact that the buildings are so old had me concerned. I look forward to the big flea markets in White Cloud and Sparks, KS in the spring and fall. I'll have to include Ft. Leavenworth in the rotation.

JW said...

That's one of the coolest bonuses I've heard about.
Some companies will let you take paid leave to work for charity. Socially responsible business.. it's so 21st century.

emawkc said...

It's a Festivus Miracle!

Grimm said...

I have to admit, I am very glad to have found this site.

Great story man. Glad to hear stories that make you take a step back and look around and things. said...

quite a story...always good to hear things like that and what a great idea for a company to do. thanks for sharing...

Red7Eric said...

That's AWESOME. That is a totally great thing that your girlfriend's company does. Of course, cynical me wonders how many people actually go through with it and how many make up stories that they post on the website.

Still, if it's the kind of company that comes up with such a cool idea, then the people who self-select to work there probably are the kind who also think it's a cool idea and look forward to doing something nice.

And I don't really believe in God either, but I do believe in people. They're way more amazing that most of us give them credit for.

Rock on.

Nightmare said...

Very Cool.

I am trying to be cynical here and I got nothing.

Diety bless you,

Leslie said...

Very cool bonus idea. Your girlfriend really took it to the next level by doing all she did to pay it forward. Glad you got to tag along - it was a great story.

emawkc said...

Okay, I'll take a stab at cynical...

"Good job XO, you got to tag along and feel good for participating without putting any of your own money into the deal. Have a merry Christmas in your nice warm house with your expensive bourbon and gourmet dining."

How'd I do?

Xavier Onassis said...

emaw - I take umbrage at your assault on my charitability, sir! I would have you know that while she was in conversation with the convenience store manager, I was the one who picked out the thank you card in which the voucher was placed.

True, it didn't actually "cost" me anything but time, but there was effort put forth which should be acknowledged and appreciated! LOL!

Actually, I was just along for the ride and wanted to share somethimg I thought was cool.

I only talk about what other people do. Anything I choose to do, I keep to myself.