They’ve become part of the holiday landscape. As common as jingle bells and ugly sweaters. Tinsel and Santa hats. Hallmark movies and candy canes.
I’m talking about all the open hands. Not wanting to shake. Just wanting your cash.
At nearly every register, you’re asked if you’d like to buy a coupon book to benefit some cause, round up your purchase to the nearest dollar, donate your change. Buy an angel. Put your name on a donor tree.
There are bell ringers and kettles, kids peddling wrapping paper and Scouts selling popcorn that, judging by the price, has been caramelized with gold.
Having so many hands reaching after your wallet can have the same effect as too much noise. You want to scream, “QUIET!” and have it all go away.
Instead, many of us develop pat answers, like “I already gave” or “Sorry — no change” and plow on ahead.
Most everyone has a story about giving gone badly. The encounter with a panhandler who, when handed a five, says, “What? You don’t have a twenty in there? You look like you’d have a twenty.”
Or the retiree who plays Santa at charity parties telling how he saw the same children at one event after another, collecting free gifts meant for the poor, which their parents likely return to Walmart or sell online.
It’s difficult not to be tainted by stories like that. They can harden a person. Make them feel foolish for giving. Enable them to believe they’re being wise with their money when they say no.
Yet as hard as it might be at times, we can’t allow ourselves to become hardened to the many because of the few.
I recall a time when I was a newly single mom, still grieving. Everything seemed to be going wrong all at once. The water heater broke, I had a leak in my roof, and my furnace kept shutting off. It was overwhelming. Then a team of men from my old church (St. Paul’s United Methodist in Nitro) came over and fixed everything. Even carted off some junk from my garage.
Could I have fixed those things myself? Yes. And eventually, I would have. But it would’ve been difficult and exhausting and taken yet another bite out of my soul (and my check book) that I really didn’t have to spare at the time.
I remember how I felt that night after they left. It was like being a kid again, tucked into bed. I felt wonderfully cared for.
Those men had swooped in and fixed more than my troublesome house. They showed me there are good men out there (when I was hugely down on men), they showed me compassion, and they showed me it’s not shameful to accept help once in a while.
Give without remembering. Receive without forgetting.
Many of us are fortunate to go our entire lives without needing more than the occasional hand, usually from our folks or other family. A little boost over the rough times. But others find themselves in a jam over and over again, though no fault of their own. They patch one hole only to have four more appear.
They can afford nothing but cheap, beater cars, and the constant repairs keep them from getting ahead.
They have a single hospital procedure done and are suddenly in debt several grand in medical bills, even with good insurance.
They get screwed out of deposits or cheated on pay and can’t afford the legal fees to take it to court.
And yes. There are many who make stupid choices. Who spent their money unwisely and behave in ways that would make grandma blush. But not dropping your change in the kettle because of those people is wrongheaded thinking. Not giving won’t make them go away. It will only hurt those whom life has already stung.
There’s a saying, “When you have more than you need, build a longer table. Not a higher fence.”
If you can help, then you should.
And if there are too many hands out, just focus on one.