Daily life is filled with routine. There are those who enjoy their daily rituals while others grow weary of them; nearly all agree they are necessary. We need them to ensure lunches are packed, clothes are washed, dishes are done and trash is taken to the curb. During the holiday season demands are amplified. Finding the perfect gift for everyone on our list can be a challenge. In our haste, we often overlook the most obvious and meaningful present we can offer. The gift of time.
Last week I had a chance to volunteer for a local charity. I met people from all walks of life. It provided an opportunity to catch up with old friends, colleagues, and former students. I also made new acquaintances as friendly strangers stopped to make donations. During my three hour shift two gentlemen stopped to make a donation and talked to me at length. This made me uncomfortable until I realized why they were talking to me. They were lonely. The first gentleman told me he would be alone this Christmas as he had the previous two. He had tears in his eyes. I asked him what happened three years ago and he said, “ I can’t talk about it.” When his ride appeared, I shook his hand and let him know I would be thinking about him. I met the second stranger a short time later. I thanked him for his donation and he thanked me for my time. He told me “my mom taught me to give at Christmas time and it always stuck with me.” It was obvious he had lived a hard life and a lifetime of bad decisions reflected in his eyes. You could also tell Christmas reminded him it wasn’t too late to make better decisions.
I didn’t do anything special last week. There are many people who volunteer more often than I do, but it was a powerful reminder that the greatest gift you can offer is your time. We all have relatives and friends we haven’t seen in months, if not longer. This Christmas bypass the ugly sweater and the multi-purpose golf tool. Instead, hit pause on those daily routines long enough to visit Uncle Bill or volunteer to help someone in need. It’s a good reminder that life is about people, not the stuff we buy for people.